The long-standing rivalry between the Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers will be ramped up in this weekend’s BC Hockey League home and home matchup.
Though the Vipers lost a nail biter to the league-leading Chilliwack Chiefs Wednesday in Vernon, the team remains one of the hottest in the second half and will be looking to make up ground in the standings.
Meanwhile, the Interior Division-leading Vees have the Merritt Centennials nipping at their heals, following that team’s 5-0 shutout of Coquitlam this week. Merritt is now just four points back of the Vees.
With eight games to play, Penticton has 69 points (33-14-1-2) good for third place overall behind Chilliwack (77 points) and the Prince George Spruce Kings (70 points) of the Mainland Division.
“It’s going to be a grinding weekend. Both teams don’t give up a lot of goals and we’re the two hottest teams in the league since Jan. 1,” said Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson. “Vernon’s trying to get home ice advantage in the first round and we’re trying to get first place, so there’s a lot at stake.
“Rivalry? One hundred per cent, once those two jerseys get thrown on the same ice, it’s always going to be a battle.”
A big part of why the teams are so stingy when it comes to giving up goals is their last lines of defence in goalies Jack LaFontaine of the Vees and the Vipers’ Bradley Cooper.
LaFontaine has 26 wins and only 10 losses so far this season with a .919 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average, second only to Logan Neaton of Prince George.
Cooper is third in the league with a goals-against average of 2.42.
Friday’s game will be the fifth meeting of the two teams, with the Vees holding a 3-1 advantage. The last game, in December, Penticton won 2-1.
The Vees did get some good news with Cassidy Bowes expected to be back in the line up after a lower-body injury sidelined him for the team’s last game against Chilliwack. The Kelowna native has six goals and 16 assists in 40 games this season.
“So we’re back to 11 forwards, which is better than 10,” said Harbinson.
Vee’s defenceman James Miller continues to lead the team in scoring with 18 goals and 38 assists, tied for eighth place in the league standings.
Friday’s 7 p.m. game at the South Okanagan Events Centre is the First West Feed the Valley event and fans are asked to bring a non-perishable food item.
Everyone who donates will be entered to win a Vees team-signed jersey and hat or purchase a raffle ticket at the game for a chance to win two tickets to Little Big Town: The Breakers Tour coming to the SOEC on Friday, March 1.
All proceeds go towards the Penticton Salvation Army Food Bank.
The Vees will travel to Vernon Saturday for the return match which starts at 6 p.m.
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