About 200 fans gathered at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Monday to welcome home the national champion Penticton Vees.
Cheers erupted as the Vees stepped off the bus hoisting the RBC Cup trophy, even moreso when Penticton-born players Cody Depourcq and Logan Johnston took their turn with it.
Vees coach Fred Harbinson spoke highly of the Penticton fans, some of which yelled “great job” and “way to go Fred” as he came off the bus on Monday evening.
“They have been unbelievable all the way through. Since Christmas time I don’t think we have had a crowd under 2,000 and In the playoffs round three and in the last game almost 5,000. They have been a big push for us when we need that push,” said Harbinson. “We had a great group of people that came out and supported us in Humboldt and we hear about all the things going on back home people going to the SOEC or just going to the bars and watching the games. This town deserves a lot of credit and they definitely deserve this championship.”
After losing their first two games of the tournament, the Vees bounced back. Goaltender Michael Garteig shut the door in the semi-final helping the Vees to a 3-0 win sending them to the final against the Woodstock Slammers. The Vees took a 2-0 lead in the final but the Slammers fought back and were ahead 3-2 in the third period. Bryce Gervais scored late in the game to knot the game 3-3 then Joey Benik netted the game winner with just 50 seconds left.
Vees fan Jean Mitchell showed up to greet the Vees and the RBC Cup on Monday dressed in a white t-shirt with the Vees logo on the front and the autographs of all the players on the back. After three years of following the team she decided to get season tickets in section 108 this year.
“I sit right behind the bench and I love it. I got their backs so to speak,” said Mitchell.
While it was difficult for her to chose just one favourite player this season, Mitchell said the whole community benefits from having a successful team like the Vees.
Mitchell said she watched the intense final game on the live broadcast on TSN2 from home on Sunday.
“I knew Joey Benik was going to get it. I was pulling for him and sure enough he did it. I was almost in tears, it was so cool,” said Mitchell.
Team captain Johnston said the whole experience still seems like a dream to him.
“I don’t even get it right now. When I look back on it I think I will get a better grip on it,” said Johnston.
Find more on this story in Wednesday’s Penticton Western News or visit www.pentictonwesternnews.com for the story with video from the Vees return home.