John Siemer didn’t say he guaranteed a series victory against the Surrey Eagles like Mark Messier’s against the New Jersey Devils in 1994 with the New York Rangers.
He wasn’t far from it though. It’s because of the confidence the Penticton Vees have.
“Personally, like I can’t see us losing. I can’t really,” said Siemer, who is very familiar with the Eagles having played against them several times with the Coquitlam Express. “Once we went through both those series (Salmon Arm and West Kelowna), just like we did, I think the team is getting more and more confident every day. It’s just something with the team. The playoffs is bringing us that much tighter. I like the way we’re working together right now.”
The Vees advanced to the Fred Page Cup after defeating the West Kelowna Warriors 2-1 in overtime of Game 5 last Thursday.
Starting Friday in Surrey, the Eagles will be looking to knock off the defending Fred Page Cup champions. The Eagles earned their first trip to the British Columbia Hockey League final in nine years after sweeping the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The Eagles have home ice advantage as the league’s best team.
Siemer, who will be facing his old line mate and former Vee Brady Shaw, said he knows what the Eagles are all about.
“Their goalie is pretty much what saves them most games,” said Siemer of Michael Santaguida.
The Eagles puckstopper has a 1.61 goals against average and .956 save percentage in 11 playoff games. That ranks him No.1 in both categories. Siemer said the key to getting to Santaguida is utilizing their speed.
“Our speed is going to kill them I think,” said Siemer. “They are obviously a good team. They have fire power. They are good off the rush. I feel once we get the puck down low and we work it around them, I think we’re going to dominate down there. We’re going to get in Santaguida’s head.”
What makes the Eagles a challenging team is their size, said Siemer. The Eagles average height, according to www.eliteprospects.com, is six feet, 181 pounds. The Vees average is five-foot-nine, 178 pounds. The Eagles like to play physical. However, Siemer said if the Vees can get past that, he doesn’t think much will stop them.
While Vees assistant captain Wade Murphy said taking hits can sap your energy, it’s not an issue for them.
“All the forwards like the physical play,” said Murphy. “It kind of gets us going I think.”
The line of Cody DePourcq with Travis Blanleil and Cam Amantea/Josh Blanchard, is use to taking punishment.
“They get pounded quite often,” said Murphy smiling. “Just bounce right off.”
Murphy said they are excited to play the Eagles, who they split the two regular season games with.
“They are a good team,” he said. “They have some skill up front, great goaltending.”
Their skill up front includes Shaw, Michael Stenerson and Adam Tambellini, who are one, two and three in playoff scoring with 16, 14 and 13 points respectively. Tambellini leads the BCHL with nine goals in 11 playoff games. Murphy described the former Vernon Viper as a sharp shooter. To defeat the Eagles and advance to the first Western Canada Cup in Nanaimo, Murphy said they have some new plays hidden up their sleeve. With Santaguida being five-foot-nine, he said it’s important to get pucks high on him and keep shooting.
Murphy didn’t downplay the importance of winning the first game. He said it’s likely the most important with the first two in Surrey. Using their speed will be key in the South Surrey Arena, which has an Olympic-sized ice sheet. Murphy said there will be a lot of room to work with.
“Make plays and keep it simple,” he said. “I think its beneficial to us actually. I think we’re a little quicker than Surrey.”
Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said the BCHL championship should be fun, especially because they have had good games with the Eagles.
“It’s always fun when you get down to the final two teams. It’s a privilege to be able to play in the final. Hopefully everybody in town kind of respects that and appreciates that it’s our third time in six years. You don’t get to do this every day.”
Fans will get their chance to support the Vees next Monday and Tuesday, when the series shifts back to the South Okanagan Events Centre for Games 3 and 4.
Harbinson has his team ready after watching game film.
What Harbinson knows about the Eagles is that they are a disciplined team that play their systems well. They have allowed four goals on 37 penalty kills for an efficiency rate of 89 per cent.
“They are a patient hockey club. This time of year you need to have patience,” said Harbinson. “Whoever comes out will have likely won the special teams battle.”
Heading into the series, the Vees power play has been more lethal, scoring 11 times on 42 chances, a rate of 26 per cent, compared to nine goals on 56 tries for the Eagles, 16 per cent.
“We know who their troublesome guys are,” said Harbinson. “The guys that we have to be concerned with. Santaguida is clearly one of them.”
Having success against the Eagles goalie will involve having traffic in front of him.
“Got to get hard to the net,” he said. “Have to get traffic and get pucks to the net.”