Vees take control of conference

Top of the heap, numero uno, king of the hill — whatever you want to call it, the Penticton Vees are it in the BCHL Interior Conference.

Penticton Vees Nick Buchanan tries to knock down a loose puck in front of Vernon Vipers goalie Kirby Halcrow on Saturday at the SOEC. The Vees beat their rivals 6-2 to take first in the conference.

Top of the heap, numero uno, king of the hill — whatever you want to call it, the Penticton Vees are it in the BCHL Interior Conference.

“I’m just happy the way the guys are coming together and our work ethic in practice is obviously translating into games and that is the biggest thing I am happy about,” said Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson. “Right now I think our division is really strong from top to bottom.”

The top-dog title in the Interior Conference came with a cherry on top, a convincing 6-2 win on Saturday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre over long-time rivals the Vernon Vipers — a team that last season the Vees struggled with, losing every game.

“I know they are like that cross-town rival and for most of the guys it’s their first time beating them in their Penticton career. It was good for us to get that win and earn first place as well,” said Vees forward Mario Lucia.

Adding to his five points from the previous evening’s bout, an 8-3 win over the Westside Warriors, Lucia had an assist and a power-play goal to stretch his scoring streak to six games.

“It’s my role on the team to put up points every night and I’m trying to be consistent,” said Lucia. “My linemates and I are really clicking together. I think I am just putting myself in the right places to score goals and my linemates are finishing.”

Lucia and his linemate Travis St. Denis are tied among leading scorers for the Vees with 19 a-piece. Nipping at their heels is the third man in this unit, Connor Reilly, with 16 points.

The Vees coach said he had high expectations for point production knowing the skill they acquired in the off-season, but it is the other qualities players are bringing to the rink that keep surprising him.

“These are guys that are willing to work hard and dedicate themselves. I’m not shocked at the points some of the guys are getting, but some of them are going past our expectations in their character, how they play with the puck and, more importantly, how they play without it. That is why we are winning hockey games right now,” said Harbinson.

The Vees are on the road tonight to face the Trail Smoke Eaters, who will be looking for revenge after being soundly beaten 9-1 at the Vees home opener on Oct. 1.

“They are off to a very slow start, but they are going to have a prideful group over there playing at home and coming off a couple of losses. I’m sure they will try to be physical against us and one of the things we have tried to do is stay disciplined and play up to the line but not go over it. When teams try to take liberties with us we will hurt them on the power-play,” said Harbinson.

The Vees will revisit the Vipers on Friday in Vernon. The booster bus still has tickets for fans to join the road trip and are available at the SOEC box office.

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