Playing hard and smart is the victory formula the Penticton Vees will use to defeat the Vernon Vipers Friday.
Being smart could be the most important when facing the Interior Conference’s leader on the road. If successful, the Vees will catch their division rivals for the first time this season.
It will be an uphill battle as captain Denver Manderson is still out with a lower body injury and Eric Filiou was out with mono, but has been cleared to play as of Thursday evening. Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said he looked good during a no-contact practice.
“I’m sure Vernon would rather us be at full strength because I’m sure they want to gauge their team to see where they are at against us,” said Harbinson, noting that the Vees have taken seven of eight points against the Snakes.
The Vees are coming off an important 6-5 overtime win in Trail against the Smoke Eaters in which they were able to exorcise their demons in Cominco Arena. The Vees’ overtime struggles there date back to last season. Vees rookie phenom Beau Bennett bagged four points, including two goals, the second being the winner.
“It was a huge team win,” said Bennett, who now has 37 goals and 102 points in 50 games. “Whoever scored it, it was just going to be a big team win.”
With three lines, Bennett said that along with playing hard and smart, they must think defence first.
“They have really good offence,” said Bennett of the Vipers, adding he hopes they will have Filiou back. “I think we can take advantage of their defence a bit. If we pull two points out of there I think we’re in first place because of the tie-breaker.”
Bennett, who has been moved to centre, said the game will be a test because of the missing bodies, but it’s not one he’s afraid of.
“If we can win with these guys, and I’m confident we can, it’s just going to be even more confident when we get guys like Mandy (Manderson) and Shesh (Alex Szczechura) back to full health. And Filiou,” said Bennett.
In scoring 100 points, Bennett, of Gardena, CA., said it’s a nice honour to reach.
“That’s not your goal at the beginning,” he said. “You want to win a championship. That is still ahead of us.”
Within the first five minutes, the Vees were down 3-0 against Trail and goalie Sean Bonar’s night was finished. They trailed 4-1, then 5-4 when Logan Johnston scored shorthanded midway through the third period to tie. Bennett scored 47 seconds into the second overtime.
“I could see in our guys that we weren’t going to be denied this time in overtime there,” said Harbinson, who noted the mental errors they made are all correctable.
Vees note: To learn why goale Joel Rumpel chose to attend the University of Wisconcin for the 2011/12 season, go to www.pentictonwesternnews.com.
Vees backup goalie Joel Rumpel is relieved to know his hockey career will continue beyond the junior A level. Following next season, the Swift Current, Sask., native will play Division 1 with the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
“Wisconsin is the dream school as some say,” said Rumpel.
The 18-year-old said people would talk about playing in the Western Hockey League all the time. However, he had several discussions with his uncle Roy Schultz, a former goalie who played for the Badgers and now the general manager and partner of the Osoyoos Coyotes of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, about college hockey. It has been Rumpel’s dream to do the same. The rookie netminder loved his visit to Wisconsin, which included taking in an outdoor game the weekend of Feb. 6.
“It was crazy,” he said. “Fifty-five thousounds screaming fans.”
Rumpel said the decision wasn’t difficult, but he was a bit nervous about the process because players have only so much time to get a college commitment. In 22 games with the Vees, Rumpel is 17-3 with a 1.87 goals against average and .924 save percentage. He recently filled in for Sean Bonar to help the Vees win 6-5 in double overtime. He is the ninth Vees player to earn a college scholarship.