The Penticton Vees returned home Monday to a warm welcome.
Approximately 30 fans waited at the South Okanagan Events Centre as the Vees returned from Cobourg, Ont. the host city of the Royal Bank Cup championship after losing 3-1 to the eventual national champ Cobourg Cougars. The fans wanted to let the team know they appreciated everything they did this season, which ended with 32 playoff games in 64 days.
Longtime Vees fan Jon Race came out to say thank you for a great season that saw the Vees win the B.C. Hockey League’s Fred Page Cup.
“It’s the least I can do,” said Race.
Don Deacon, who became a Vees fan two years ago, said he and his wife wanted to “let them know even if they didn’t win we appreciate what they have done.”
“They are still winners in our eyes,” said Deacon, who endured some nervous moments during the post-season, including watching Gabe Bast fire a shot off the post with 90 seconds left in their semifinal loss.
Tyler Zanatta said the Vees are their home team.
“It’s always good to support them,” he said. “I think they did pretty good. It was pretty disappointing the last game.”
Murray Maxwell, a long time fan and Vees dressing room services, said he couldn’t be happier that they won the Fred Page Cup. He wished they could have returned as national champions.
Vees captain Nicholas Jones said it was great coming home to the reception.
“We’ve had great fan support all year. This just shows the type of fans we have here,” he said. “It’s been an amazing place to play.”
Alternate captain Owen Sillinger said the welcome was special to come home to, even after the disappointing finish.
Vees president, coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said the reception was awesome.
“Whenever we go to other places, it really makes you appreciate what we have here,” he said. “I don’t care what level of hockey it is, what has been built here, I always talk about the culture. A big part of our culture is our fan base, the community itself and I think it shows that they are the type of fans that even if you don’t win the final game, if you play hard and you compete, you do your best, I think they are always there to support our guys.”
Jones said the loss to Cobourg was disappointing, but they had a great year with many “win or die games.”
“I felt like we left it all out there in the last game,” said Jones. “I felt like I couldn’t give anymore. It’s a good feeling knowing that. It’s difficult to still lose. We have a great group here. I am proud of every one of them.”
“I thought we played our best game of the tournament,” said Sillinger. “Hats off to Cobourg. They were very good. I think that we were the best team honestly in the tournament. I think if we play any team in a seven game series, I’m confident.”
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Starting on Thursday until Sunday, the Vees are hosting their spring camp at the SOEC. There will be 160 players attending with the organization looking to identify players for next season and beyond. Harbinson said part of the camp is about educating players about the program as well as the BCHL.
“Our guys have done a good job of identifying the right talent over the last few years, I’m expecting the same this year,” said Harbinson.