Fred Harbinson has a simple focus for his Penticton Vees this weekend, “just win baby.”
The Vees, ranked third in Canada, are riding a five-game winning streak into Langley Friday where they face the Rivermen in the Langley Events Centre.
Monday’s practice session wrapped up with fun drills to hone the players’ shooting skills. The Vees, first in the Interior Division at 22-3-0-1, had one net lying on its posts in front of the other net, leaving about four inches to shoot at, while another had the net on an angle leaving a small gap to score.
Along with improving shooting skills, the Vees coach-general manager joked it served to improve something else.
“Assistant coach Steve Cawley’s passing,” said Harbinson, which drew laughs in the coaching staff’s office.
“You have to develop skill every week,” said Harbinson. “It was a little bit of a fun skill day for them. It makes it a challenge. It makes it fun.”
Vees assistant captain Jack Ramsey agreed.
“A little competition between the guys. It really pushes us, kind of gets you out of your element,” said Ramsey. “Shooting quick and shooting in that small space. It really helps out in games. You only have that four to five inches to put the puck in.”
The rapid drill shooting didn’t look easy and Ramsey said players can be off balance when firing.
“It gets you ready for that split second when you have that in a game too,” added Ramsey, who has seven goals in 26 games. “Everyday after practice you see guys shooting. We don’t mess around a ton after practise. We like to have fun, but we’re always working hard on things too.”
So which Vee has the best touch in pressure situations?
“That’s a tough one to pin point,” Ramsey smiled.
“We have a lot of really good shooters on our team. Pretty much anyone in our forward group, if they get the puck in the slot, there is a pretty strong chance that they are going to put it in the net.”
As the Vees get ready for the Rivermen (13-9-1-3), then return to Penticton to host the West Kelowna Warriors (13-7-0-5) Saturday at 6 p.m., they do so without winger Matt Serratore, who is out six to eight weeks with a broken ankle. He watched Monday’s practice from the bench as he wore a boot on his left leg.
“It’s a big loss to the team. It’s a huge loss to our line,” said Ramsey, as the line is centered by Riley Alferd. “We’re definitely losing some speed. We’ll lose goals too. He has been putting up a lot of points this year. One of the big things too is he is a huge guy in the locker room.”
Committed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Air Force Falcons next season, the five-foot-10, 165 pound forward is fourth in team scoring with 13 goals and 23 points in 26 games. After Serratore went down in the second period of their 5-3 win against the Centennials in Merritt, it was reported on the Three V’s blog that the players spoke up in the dressing room and rallied to win the game for him. They trailed 2-1 after two periods and had a four-goal explosion in the third thanks to Dakota Conroy who scored twice, Demico Hannoun and Connor Chartier, who potted the winner.
“If one guys falls out of the lineup, we want to pick up the slack,” said Ramsey. “Get the win for that guy. You want to play for him.”
After defeating the Rivermen at the South Okanagan Events Centre 4-1 on Nov. 19, Ramsey expects a tougher rematch against the physical Mainland division squad. Ramsey pointed out that some people think of the Vees as a small team, that they are not that physical.
“We don’t really like that. I think we carry our weight around just fine,” he said. “I think we will be physical. Saturday, big rivalry with West Kelowna who snapped our winning streak here. We want to get back at them for that.”
The Warriors will face the Trail Smoke Eaters at Cominco Arena Friday before visiting the Vees. They are coming off a 7-4 loss to the Spruce Kings in Prince George after defeating the Vernon Vipers in overtime on Nov. 21.