Kent Lewis could only laugh when asked if he was glad to not be facing the Vernon Vipers again in the BCHL final.
“It doesn’t matter who you play. I feel this is a great league,” said Lewis, coach of the Powell River Kings who faced the Vipers three straight years. “The final two teams have to go through a lot. We are facing one heck of an opponent.”
Lewis described the Vees, Canada’s No. 1 ranked junior A team, as a very aggressive team.
“Fred (Harbinson, the Vees coach-GM) was aggressive in making moves to make sure this team can do it,” said Lewis. “They are loaded up front. They have balance. They work hard.”
The Vees also possess an offensive arsenal that would make just about any coach in the country drool. However, the calling card of this team is work ethic. They don’t quit on very many plays. That is what Harbinson has been impressed with when it comes to his backup-turned starter Chad Katunar, who has filled in well for Michael Garteig, a former King.
“Katunar has been one of the best goaltenders in the BCHL in the playoffs,” said Harbinson.
In his blog, Kings of the Castle, Kings play-by-play broadcaster Alex Rawnsley points out that the Coastal Conference champs have the advantage over the Vees in playoff experience with 76 games. The Vees have 61, with 46 games belonging to Logan Johnston, the heart and soul of the team. Johnston was just starting his Vees career when the Vees last played in the Fred Page Cup. While the Kings may have post-season experience on the Vees, that doesn’t guarantee a ticket punched to the Doyle Cup.
The Vees may lack some playoff games, but they do have hungry rookies, if you can call them rookies. The Vees have tortured goalies and embarrassed defences. In the series clincher against the Merritt Centennials, Mario Lucia made an incredible play.
Lucia cut through two Centennials players, then put the puck through Reece Willcox’s legs and fired a shot on net, which Wade Murphy was Johnny on the spot to bury the rebound. One of the etiquettes in the press box is that you don’t cheer. I do my best to be relatively silent in the press box while watching Vees games. However, I couldn’t help myself on that play. “Wow” came out of my mouth as Lucia made Willcox, rated by NHL Central Scouting, look bad.
When asking Harbinson about the Minnesota Wild draft pick, he said “Lucia is taking his game to a whole other level.
“He’s competing so hard,” added Harbinson.
“We have a lot of guys doing that.”
Including rookie Cody DePourcq, whose father John DePourcq helped the Penticton Knights win the 1986 Centennial Cup.
DePourcq, who wears his father’s old No. 19, has experienced ups and downs in the playoffs. There have been times when his line with Grant Nicholson doesn’t see the ice a lot. With defenceman Chad Bannor joining the line as a forward, the trio did good work and DePourcq scored his first playoff goal in Game 3.
“It was definitely exciting getting my first playoff goal,” he said. “We worked hard down low and Bannor did a good job in front of the net.
“It’s amazing how much the tempo picks up in the playoffs,” added DePourcq.
DePourcq, who plays a style similar to former Vee Garrett Milan, said he and his teammates are pumped for the Fred Page Cup. They know they have a tough task at hand against what he described as “a very good defensive team.”
The Vees and Kings have both played 11 games in the post-season. There is a small difference in goals allowed (Kings, 19, and the Vees, 20.) Offensively, the Vees haved scored 40 goals, eight more than the Kings. King’s goalie Sean Maguire has a 1.82 goals against average and .946 save percentage while the Vees’ Katunar has a 1.74 GAA and .933 SPCT. Maguire has faced 52 more shots.
The last time Harbinson and the Vees were in the Fred Page Cup was 2007-08. Harbinson had current Vees assistant coach Michael Hengen on his defence. Harbinson laughed when reminded. He’s glad to be back.
“It’s not easy to make it to the final,” said Harbinson, adding that only them, Vernon, Powell River and Nanaimo have been in it the last five years. “It’s special to be back there.”
Ice chips- Vees defenceman Zach Urban played six games as an affiliate player with the Kings last year, including one playoff game. Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton is at it again with mayor wagers. He and Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa have a bet that the mayor of the losing team will be forced to pose for a photo wearing the opposing city’s jersey and giving a thumbs up. The winning city will receive a basket of goodies from the losing team’s community. The best-of-seven series between the Vees and Kings begins Friday at 7 p.m. The Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular season record, and the Ryan Hatfield Trophy for winning the Interior Conference will be awarded to the Vees before Game 1 at South Okanagan Events Centre.
Emanuel Sequeira is the sports editor of the Penticton Western News.