It’s crunch time.
With just two games each remaining in the regular season one of three teams will be crowned the BC Hockey League Interior Division champions this weekend.
The Penticton Vees currently have a three-point lead on the Vernon Vipers and the Wenatchee Wild who will be their next opponents Saturday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
This game between the north-south rivals could be for all the marbles. They play a matinee contest the following day against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks at the SOEC.
The Vipers and the Wild will do battle Friday night in Vernon.
“I explained to our guys what the situation is, I spelled out to them what we need, we need a point,” said Vees head coach and GM Fred Harbinson. “But today (Thursday) in our meeting we said what needed to be said, we need a point but we’re not going to sit back and trying to get a point, we’re going out to win hockey games.”
He noticed a playoff attitude among his players in Wednesday’s game in Salmon Arm and pointed to the fact Penticton only allowed two shots on goal in the third period with a 7-1 lead.
About Saturday’s game which is expected to be a near sell out: “One of the things I always to the players at the start of the year and I asked again yesterday is why they came to play in Penticton and to a man they say it’s because Penticton gets to play the big games here.
“We’ve got an opportunity to play at home on the weekend at the end of the year for two banners that can hang in the rink forever. As a coach and players this exactly the reason we want to play here.”
The Vees have finalized their home playoff dates for the opening round of the 2018 British Columbia Hockey League playoffs, presented by Nature’s Fare.
Regardless of who their opponent is in the first round, the Vees will host game one at the South Okanagan Events Centre Friday, March 2 at 7 p.m. Game two will be the following night, Saturday, March 3 at 6:00.
Game five, if necessary, would be March 9 and should the series need a seventh and deciding game, it would take place at the South Okanagan Events Centre Monday, March 12.
Following Sunday’s game there will be presentations on the ice for the annual team awards.
Over 3,300 fans have packed the SOEC in each of the past two years for the final game of the season, and with the team being on the cusp of becoming the first Canadian Junior Hockey League team to average 3,000 fans per game, the Vees are looking forward to another large crowd before getting set for the playoffs.
Sunday will also mark the final regular season games for a pair of long time Vees as Owen Sillinger and Taylor Ward prepare for their final playoff runs as members of the organization.
Sillinger, who joined the Vees in the 2015-16 season, has played 168 games as a Vee and hit 150 career points with a three-point effort Sunday in Surrey. Prior to this season he was named co-captain of the team along with Grant Cruikshank, and will be attending Bemidji State University in the fall.
Ward, who is in his third full season with the Vees, will suit up for his 160th career game Wednesday night in Salmon Arm. The native of Kelowna exploded offensively this season, setting career highs across the board, including more than doubling his previous career high in goals. He will be attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall.
Help show your appreciation for Sillinger, Ward and the rest of their teammates this weekend before the Vees gear up to defend their Fred Page Cup championship.