Point production, tenacity and hardwork, the Penticton Vees second line is making it tough for their boss to find a reason why they shouldn’t stay together.
The line of Jack Barnes, Owen Sillinger and Ryan Sandelin are doing just what they need to, put up points. That includes Sillinger’s game winning marker against the top BCHL team, the Trail Smoke Eaters, (with assist to Sandelin), in the Vees 2-1 win on Wednesday night.
“They all bring a little bit of a different game and they all play a great two-way game. Owen is a smart player. Barnes works hard and Sandelin is not afraid to get in front of the net on power play. It is a good mix. We had so many changes to our lineup the first 23 games that right now these three are making a case for sticking,” said Vees head coach Fred Harbinson.
It’s a line combination that came together out of necessity and is still together because of consistency. Tinkering started at the beginning of the season because of injuries and players away at Hockey Canada events. Sillinger has seen his fair share of different teammates line up on his wings — Chris Klack (currently out with an injury), Ben Allen, Taylor Ward, Cassidy Bowes and Grant Cruikshank to name a few. This currently alignment of rookies beside the old guy Sillinger, if you consider 21 to be old.
Harbinson said the success of the line is that they are responsible with the puck. Sillinger added being fast in the neutral zone and physical on the forecheck has been key.
“I think a big part right now is playing with Ryan Sandelin and Jack Barnes. I think we are really working well together and I think we have developed a certain chemistry and we just have to keep going,” said Vees captain Sillinger.
The real test to their longevity as linemates will happen this weekend. After a much-needed win against Trail on Wednesday, the Vees have a pair of back-to-back home games at the South Okanagan Events Centre. The Salmon Arm Silverbacks visit on Friday and on Saturday a team the Vees and their fans got all too-familiar with last season — the Chilliwack Chiefs. Albeit, the Chiefs are a much different looking team than the one that took the Vees to Game 7 in the Fred Page Cup, and lost.
Nevertheless, a rivalry has built up and at this crucial moment in the season no team is taken lightly. Especially when the Wenatchee Wild, one point ahead of the Vees for third place in the Interior Division, also play those teams this weekend. Then the Vernon Vipers, second place in the division, face the West Kelowna Warriors, fifth and two points back of the Vees.
“One team loses and the others keep climbing. It is a very tight race in our division and we all sit comparatively,” said Harbinson. “I don’t care who we are playing, bottom line is we have to keep pace and not give any points away.”