Travis St. Denis should be dubbed Mr. October, or at the very least, Mr. Clutch.
Before the Penticton Vees’ four-game winning streak w as snapped by the Prince George Spruce Kings on Saturday, St. Denis tallied the winning goal in the previous three games. Not since his rookie season in 2008/09 when he scored five winners has he been this dangerous. St. Denis was also named by the BCHL on Thanksgiving Day as the Player of the Week. St. Denis leads the league in scoring with eight goals and 15 points. He racked up six points in three games.
Looking at some numbers, the Vees have yet to be outshot in seven games. The narrowest margin was 25-23 against the Merritt Centennials. The largest was when they outshot the Trail Smoke Eaters 44-17 during a 9-1 win. Maybe the two teams entered different doors to the South Okanagan Events Centre with the Vees getting a deal on shots. All kidding aside, the Vees defence has been sharp in preventing quality chances. The Vees have yet to allow 30 shots in a game. Seventeen is the lowest, while 28 is the highest, which they gave up in the 5-4 double overtime loss to the Spruce Kings.
While the lone northern team doesn’t have a winning record early in the season, it appears a winning attitude is creeping in.
“They dug in, they blocked shots. They were getting hurt out there, taking it off the arms and the hands and feet,” said Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas to the Prince George Free Press on their effort against the Vees. “But they stayed in there and they kept pushing. It’s good to see that it means that much to them. We could’ve said OK, we’re happy to get one point out of Penticton. But the bench was up and when we took that (overtime) penalty, everybody was on there saying ‘Look, we’ll kill it, we’ll kill it.’ So they’re starting to believe now so that’s a good thing.”
Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson was impressed with the Spruce Kings after their first meeting resulted in a 9-1 Vees win.
“They played really hard,” he said. “They have pride. It’s a tighter confine in their building so they can really clog it up a lot more. It makes for a tougher skill game for sure. They played hard and capitalized on some chances in game two. You have to give them credit for hanging in there.”
Harbinson was happy to leave Prince George with three of four points.
“It’s never easy winning back-to-back games in somebody else’s building,” said Harbinson. “We had some unfortunate puck luck in game two, otherwise we probably would have grabbed all four points. I thought our work ethic was real strong. I can’t really put much blame on anybody.”
Now the Vees prepare to face the Westside Warriors (5-3-0) on Friday in Royal LePage Place and the defending BCHL champs Vernon Vipers at the SOEC. This is the matchup that Vees fans will be very interested in. The Vipers don’t appear to be missing a beat without Mark Ferner. Jason Williamson is undefeated as the Vipers coach with his team at 7-0-0.
This is the game that fans will talk about after. If there is one thing right now that will help the Vees beat the Vipers it is their dogged determination. Seeing that on Saturday should make for an entertaining evening.
Harbinson said his players have been working extremely hard, especially to eliminate quality scoring chances.
“If we can do that against either of these teams or both of them, we will be able to have success against both,” he said.
For fans who may not be getting enough Vees coverage, Coach’s Corner, the weekly live event and online TV program, returns tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. at the Best Damn Sports Bar on Martin Street. Hosted by Vees play-by-play announcer Fraser Rodgers, Harbinson will talk in depth about the Vees and the BCHL. Fans will be able to ask questions and the local media will do its best to make Harbinson sweat.
“I’m excited, because I think more teams need to try to market our league, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this,” said Harbinson. “We need to find ways to get people excited about our brand of hockey, our league and our individual teams. Hopefully it will spur on more people to come to our games.”
In other Vees news, Mario Lucia and Curtis Loik have decided where they will play in college. Lucia will join the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, while Loik joins Penn State. Check the Western News on Friday to find out why Lucia and Loik made their decisions.
The Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings were released and the Vees are now 18th after previously being unranked. The only other BCHL team ranked are the undefeated Vernon Vipers at No. 6. They are the BCHL’s best at 7-0-0.
Emanuel Sequeira is the sports editor of the Penticton Western News.