Although they’re off to a phenomenal start to the season, Penticton Vees coach Fred Harbinson said his team is keeping an even keel heading into this weekend’s games.
The Vees dominated the Trail Smoke Eaters in back-to-back away games on Sept. 6 and 7 at the Trail Memorial Arena. The first night, goalie Yaniv Perets turned aside an impressive 23 out of 24 shots on net, while the offense worked hard to establish a 3-0 lead for a majority of the game. At the buzzer, Vees came out on top 4-1 and carried this momentum into the game the next night, which finished at 7-1 thanks to talented goalminding by Derek Krall and the dedicated offense.
This weekend, Penticton will be travelling first to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena where they’ll take on the Meritt Centennials at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13. Then it’s off to Rolling Mix Concrete Arena in Prince George on Sept. 14 to challenge the Spruce Kings, with puck drop at 7 p.m.
Harbinson said it can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of how well the team is doing, but for the returning players the bitter end to last season is still fresh on their minds. The Vees 2018-19 playoff run was cut short in the first round by the Cowichan Valley Capitals, who bested the guys four out of the seven games.
“It’s pretty easy to keep it on an even keel right now because of the fact that we have eight or nine guys back right now from last year when we had a difficult finish to our season. Even though it’s something in the past, it’s still a little fresh,” said Harbinson. “We’re an older team too, which allowes a little bit more maturity in our approach and so I think the guys understand, no matter how good you are in September, it’s where you’re at in April and May that counts. So in one breath, we’re happy with the way we’re starting and the way we’re acting in our day to day approach, and then the other side of it is we know there’s a heck of a lot of work that has to continue for the next few months.”
Sidelining injuries have also plagued the team for the past two seasons, with Harbinson noting that they lost three significant players for the rest of the season before Christmas in both years. He said the players and coaches know that injuries are a part of the game, but with a little luck, they won’t be as prominent this year.
“You need a little bit of everything, and one of the elements to be honest is a little bit of luck. We’ll try to take care of everything else, we’ve got grit to our game and skill, and we’ve obviously shown that we can score some goals,” said Harbinson. “And we’ve got two really great goalies. So in the long run we need a little bit of puck luck and then hopefully we can stay out of the infirmary and keep moving forward.”
Harbinson said the coaching staff and team administration have spent considerable time at the beginning of this season to “get the culture back on track” with the team. An effort that seems to be paying off according to Captain David Silye, a returning Vee.
“Everyone has been putting in the work, and it’s nice to see that hard work pay off, so we’re happy with where we’re at right now,” said Silye. “We have a good core group of returning guys, and the guys they’ve brought in are experienced and good guys that fit in nicely. So it’s been a smooth transition coming off of last year.”
Silye said practices have been focusing on “the finer details of their systems” so that the team functions as a solid unit. Harbinson said they also will focus on making smart, quick passes in the games coming up since both arenas have a smaller sheet than what the guys may be used to. He said if they hold onto the puck for too long at these arenas, it can lead to a pile-up of players in one end.
The Vees first home game is Sept. 27 against the West Kelowna Warriors, and Harbinson said the team is excited to have the home ice and crowd advantage, noting that the fans are like the “seventh player.” He added that the South Okanagan Events Centre is hoping to sell some more season passes, which is a great opportunity for die-hard fans to show their support for the team and the game.
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