Vees need gritty effort to earn win in Merritt

The Penticton Vees have a home-and-home set with the Merritt Centennials this weekend.

MATHEW ROBSON and the Penticton Vees return to BCHL action this weekend against the Merritt Centennials.

MATHEW ROBSON and the Penticton Vees return to BCHL action this weekend against the Merritt Centennials.

The Penticton Vees know facing the Merritt Centennials won’t be easy.

A veteran lineup under second-year coach Joe Martin is second in the BCHL’s Interior Division with five wins, three losses and a tie.

“It makes a big difference. They understand the league,” said Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson. “I think they look pretty prepared. Their special teams are doing well. They have a potent power play (executing at 35.3 per cent). We’re looking forward to playing a team on back-to-back nights, it should be a good little battle for us.”

It starts Friday at the South Okanagan Events Centre, then shifts to Merritt’s Nicola Valley Arena on Saturday. On the road the Centennials have won four of six games. They are led offensively by centre Michael Regush, who has four goals and 11 points in nine games. Winger Tyler Ward leads in goals with six and Cade Gleekel is their early threat on the man advantage with all three of his goals coming on the power play.

“We have to key on their power play. We have to do a better job of killing penalties,” said Harbinson. “Our special teams numbers haven’t been great (15.4 per cent on the PP, 77.8 per cent on the PK). It’s things that we have been trying to work on.”

Harbinson said his team will have to win two different ways. The Vees coaching staff has talked to the new players about the Centennials’ smaller rink.

“The tight confines and how the ice is there, you’re just going to have to really grind it out and be prepared to work on Saturday night,” he said.

“You just really got to shoot,” said Vees captain Nicholas Jones. “You can shoot from anywhere and it’s an opportunity. The boards are lively. You have got to be ready for anything. There is going to be a lot of blueline shots, top of the circle type of shots.  You can score from anywhere. It’s real tight, a real gritty effort.”

Jones said the key is to not play too fancy. Go in with the mentality of grinding out a win.

“Get a lot of shots, get to the net, play that kind of way,” he added.

In practice this week, Harbinson and his staff have worked with the players on tightening areas. As Jones said, it was about fine tuning their game.

The Vees enter the weekend ranked third in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top 20.