Repeating as national champions in Canada is a tough task

Repeating an RBC Cup national champions was going to be a big task for Penticton Vees

PENTICTON VEES CAPTAIN Troy Stecher did what he could with a separated shoulder to try and help his team repeat as BCHL champions. Stecher’s career with the Vees is over after three seasons and he will now play at the University of North Dakota in the fall and will be joined by teammate Wade Murphy.

PENTICTON VEES CAPTAIN Troy Stecher did what he could with a separated shoulder to try and help his team repeat as BCHL champions. Stecher’s career with the Vees is over after three seasons and he will now play at the University of North Dakota in the fall and will be joined by teammate Wade Murphy.

As much as the Penticton Vees returnees wanted to win another RBC Cup, and the new guys their first, it was going to be a tough task.

It all starts with 127 teams in 10 leagues vying for that coveted trophy.

Since the Centennial/RBC Cup was first awarded in 1971, only three times has there been back-to-back winners. The first one was the Prince Albert Raiders in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 1981 and 1982, then it was the Vernon Lakers in 1990-91, then more recently the Vernon Vipers in 2009-10. Not long after the Vipers won the RBC Cup for the second straight year in 2010, I asked Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson his thoughts on what they accomplished. He said what the Vipers accomplished is a special feat.

“For a team to win it’s tough, but back-to-back that’s really special,” said Nicholson, whose son Grant Nicholson won an RBC Cup with the Vees last season. “It certainly shows the job that ownership and coaches have done with that team.”

In 2011, the Vipers nearly pulled off the unthinkable of winning it three years in a row but lost in overtime to the Pembroke Lumber Kings.

I did some digging to find out what helped the teams that did pull off the feat. The 1981 Raiders had 10 returning players. The 2010 version of the Vipers had 14. Only the 1991 Lakers were able to repeat as national champions with the same number of returning players as the Vees had this season: four.

With the exception of that Lakers team, it makes sense to need a solid group of returnees in order to have a good chance of repeating. I say this because the players who have done that can convey what it takes to those who haven’t.

Cody DePourcq’s comments sound as though that wasn’t an issue.

“Every thing you do, you do as hard as you can,” he said. “It’s hard work. Look back at the team we had last year that won, we did the exact same thing.”

Something that didn’t help the Vees was having to deal with injuries, but most teams battle that through the playoffs. Captain Troy Stecher, however, played with a separated shoulder, an injury Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said to me after the game would usually keep a player out for four to six weeks.

They also had to deal with goalie Michael Santaguida, who is among five nominees for the Canadian Junior Hockey League Top Goaltender Award. In 42 games this season, Santaguida posted 29 wins, six shutouts, a 1.83 goals against average and .939 save percentage. In the playoffs, he’s 14-3 with four shutouts and a 1.65 goals against average and .955 save percentage. He did make several key saves during the BCHL final, but he also got help from a goalie’s best friend, the post and crossbar. The Vees also missed great chances, especially in that deciding game. Murphy said he was happy with his play, but he was denied more times than he’d like. During the double-overtime, he took a beauty pass from John Siemer only to be stuffed by Santaguida’s blocker and stick.

During the series, Murphy and Brad McClure each scored twice. The Vees had 11 goals in six games to the Eagles’ 16. Sam Mellor, who showed off his passing skills, led his teammates with three assists.

An inability to finish, despite their best efforts, hurt the Vees. It’s surprising considering the offensive weapons they possessed. As I watched the Vees miss out on several chances during the first overtime, the thought crept into my heads that the sporting gods were going to go against the Vees.

What was nice to see, aside from a very large crowd, who may have been lured in by lower concession prices (joke aside, the team finally had an impressive crowd to play in front of), was that shortly after the dagger was put in the Vees, their fans expressed appreciation for their efforts. Chants of “Go Vees Go” were belted as the Eagles were about to receive the Fred Page Cup.

I will take this moment to wish the departing Vees the best in their future, but especially to Stecher, Murphy and Chad Katunar from that RBC Cup team. It was a pleasure to watch you.

Vees notes: Seven BCHLers have been ranked in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings, including Jedd Soleway at 131 for North American skaters and Katunar 28 for goalies.