Penticton Vees forward Garrett Milan and Mark MacMillan are no longer game and practise spectators.
Both players suffered head injuries early against the Victoria Grizzlies on Jan. 29 and missed the next three. The good news for the Vees is they returned to practise on Tuesday as the BCHL club took the necessary precautions to ensure the offensive forwards were healthy to return.
“It’s huge,” said Vees alternate captain Mark Hall of the two offensive wiz’s being back. “That’s two guys that you look to for offence and energy and they are good character guys for our team.”
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson is glad to have both and was happy to finally be able to put his players through three solid days of practise at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Last week, because of the illness and injuries, the Vees practiced just once with the help of affiliate players before losing to the Trail Smoke Eaters 6-0 at home, then being edged out by the Vernon Vipers 3-2 at the Wesbild Centre. Harbinson is hopeful the work they have put in translates into results.
“We had a couple bad games in a row there due to the situation,” he said. “Now that we have everybody back, we can get back to simple hockey, smart hockey and we really have to outwork the teams we are playing against.”
The road trip north begins with a visit to the Prince George Coliseum as they play the Spruce Kings on Friday, then to Quesnel’s Twin Arenas on Saturday to take on the Millionaires, before heading back to play the Spruce Kings. The Spruce Kings are 3-5-0-2 in their last 10 and 12-38-0-4 on the year. They trail the Millionaires (12-33-3-6) for the final playoff berth in the Interior Conference by five points. Both teams have six games remaining on their schedule.
Hall said the Spruce Kings and Millionaires will come out hard against them because they want to make the playoffs.
“We want to get the points so we’re not going to take anything lightly, it’s all business,” said Hall. “We will come out there and work as hard just as if we’re playing Vernon or Salmon Arm. It’s a good challenge for us.”
With the playoffs nearing, the Vees play their final game on Feb. 19, Harbinson has been emphasizing physical battles during practise and that suits Hall just fine.
“It’s fun. I like hitting people,” said the former Kamloops Blazer and Vernon Viper forward. “Just another day in the office for me.”
Harbinson said he’s placed that emphasis because physical play is what playoff hockey is about.
“The games are going to be ones in the trenches come playoff time,” he said.