Nov. 26 was marked on the calendars of the Penticton Vees.
That day represented the return of captain Logan Johnston against the Chilliwack Chiefs, and there was lots of excitement within the team.
“I was missing my locker buddy for 25 games,” said Connor Reilly. “We were so excited for him.”
And so was the captain, who didn’t disappoint as he scored twice and added a helper as the Vees whipped the Chiefs 9-0 on home ice.
“I was a little shaky for the first period, but as the game went on I got pretty comfortable,” said Johnston, who was named the game’s first star.
His assist was impressive to set up Mario Lucia. After working the puck along the boards with Ryan Reilly, Johnston won a puck battle along the boards to bring it around the net. At the last second, he spotted Lucia and thread the needle through the crease.
“He’s got some good hands,” said Johnston of Lucia.
The play reminded me a bit of the work he did along the boards with assistant coach Michael Hengen just days before the Saturday game. Repeatedly, Hengen fed him the puck and Johnston completed skating drills behind the net then made his way to the front and fired shots on goal. While not identical, working on that paid dividends during his debut.
With a minute remaining in the second period, Johnston scored the Vees’ fifth goal from being in the right spot at the right time. Johnston started the play on his own goal finding Ryan Reilly, who spotted Curtis Loik slightly trailing the play. Loik then made a nice pass over to Johnston, giving the Vees a 6-0 lead going into the third. Johnston also scored the final goal.
It was a memorable performance during the 50th anniversary of the BCHL for the hometown product, who received a warm applause.
It wasn’t just Vees fans who enjoyed Johnston’s return. The captain was pleased with his performance. While Johnston didn’t introduce his fists to anyone’s face, he did become a slight pest.
“I was saying stuff, but no one was talking,” smiled Johnston. “I was just being mouthy. I was excited so I wanted to be part of everything.”
With Johnston back in the lineup, Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson now has a full lineup to work with.
While the Vees have gone 20-3-0-2 without Johnston, Harbinson now has the luxury of seeing what his team can do. Considering the damage the Vees have done without Johnston, it’s scary to think what his presence will add.
Reilly, who is enjoying a 17-game point streak (18 goals, 15 assists), said his stall buddy changes the look of the Vees with his grittiness and work ethic.
“He’s really good vocally in the locker room,” said Reilly. “He was speaking up, getting us going, keeping us calm. I definitely think he’s a huge addition for our team.”
As for the Vees’ play, Reilly said this group still has more room to grow and that excites him.
“We’re playing great hockey right now but I definitely think we can take it to a whole other level,” he said.
A reason for their turn in play came when the Vernon Vipers, who the Vees play today, whipped them 7-1 in Vernon.
“They absolutely embarrassed us and I honestly think that was the best thing that happened to us,” said Reilly. “Since then I think our team’s mentality has changed.”
Scores and highlights from the weekend: Mike Tebbut’s hattrick pushed the Langley Rivermen past the Coquitlam Express 5-2 on Friday, then on Saturday the Express doubled up the Rivermen in Langley 6-3. Alex Petan scored twice for the Rivermen. Devin Muller and Sean Flanagan scored overtime winners for the Salmon Arm SilverBacks, who swept their series with the Vernon Vipers by identical 3-2 scores. Reece Wilcox and Brandon Pfeil tallied winners for the Merritt Centennialsas they swept the Prince George Spruce Kings winning 3-2, then 4-3 in overtime. Richard Vanderhoek netted the winner for the Westside Warriors in a 4-1 decision against the Trail Smoke Eaters. Connor Tiechko scored a power play goal helping the Smoke Eaters defeat Westside 3-1. Nanaimo’s Kyle Kramer scored twice, including the winner in a 5-2 defeat against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The Bulldogs rebounded in the second game with a 6-5 win. Justin Morello scored a hattrick, while Artsiom Kalashnikov netted the winner with his fifth of the year. The Clippers erased a 4-0 deficit. Mikael Jung scored the winner for the Cowichan Valley Capitals who cruised past the Victoria Grizzlies 6-2. Matt Brown scored the lone goal as the Capitals blanked the Grizz 1-0 at home. Derek Dun made 19 saves for the shuout. Matt Scarth scored twice and Evan Richardson had a five-point night as the Powell River Kings smoked the Surrey Eagles. Steve Koshey got a little payback for the Eagles as he scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 final.
Emanuel Sequeira is the sports editor for the Penticton Western News. He is also on Twitter@pentictonsports.