As their weekend road trip to Vernon and Trail nears, the Penticton Vees have had high tempo practices.
Vees coach Fred Harbinson has been pleased to see jump in his players. He’s also been happy with how Erik Benoit, who he signed from the Western Hockey League last week, and Nicolas Pierog, who he traded for from the Surrey Eagles for Anthony Conti and future considerations, are learning the systems.
“Both have strong hockey sense. They have just jumped in like they have been here all year long,” said Harbinson. “Our players have brought them in and treated them like they have been here all year, the two of them are great kids. It’s an easy transition.”
Facing the second-place Vernon Vipers (21-11-3-4) Friday and the Trail Smoke Eaters (8-29-2-2) Saturday, Harbinson expects tough games.
“You’re playing against a big strong team on Friday night that’s going to try to wear you down,” he said. “We have made the proper adjustments and watched film.”
Trail defeated the Vipers 4-1 recently, then lost to the West Kelowna Warriors 7-3 on Jan. 4.
Vees assistant captain Travis Blanleil expects the Vipers to come out hard. He said if the Vees want to win the RBC Cup championship, they will have to go through the Vipers, who are hosting the national championship.
“They are building up to a great team and just picked up a few new players as well,” said Blanleil, in reference to former Eagle Brett Mulcahy and Dylan Chanter. “Definitely picked up a good centreman in Brett Mulcahy. I played with him early on in my career. I think he will help them up the middle scoring some goals.”
To counter the Vipers physical presence, Blanleil said the Vees need to use their skill to get around and make those big guys move.
“It should be a good matchup,” he said.
Pierog looks forward to it as he will be facing his former Eagles teammates in Demico Hannoun, Mulcahy and Mason Blacklock, who are his friends.
“It will be better to beat them,” he said. “Have the bragging rights to talk to them. It’s definitely going to be a battle for sure.”
When asked about the Smoke Eaters, Pierog said they will give the Vees another good test as they are a strong team.
“Any team in this league, you have to show them some respect, even if they are in last place,” he said.