Warrior battle ahead for resurgent Vees

Penticton Vees captain Derik Johnson expects tonight’s meeting with the Westside Warriors at the South Okanagan Events Centre to be physical.

Penticton Vees captain Derik Johnson expects tonight’s meeting with the Westside Warriors at the South Okanagan Events Centre to be physical.

“Westside always plays us tough,” said Johnson, who liked how is teammates played to sweep a three-game road swing against the Prince George Spruce Kings and Quesnel Millionaires. “Coming down the last few days before playoffs, everyone wants to be playing their best hockey of the year. It’s going to be a battle.”

All remaining games for the Vees, who snapped a four-game losing skid, are important as they still have a chance at first in the Interior Conference. Heading into tonight’s action (7 p.m. puck drop), the Vees are three points behind Vernon for first and tied with Salmon Arm with 76 points. The SilverBacks have a game in hand on the Vees. The Warriors, with three games remaining, are seven points back of the Vees and are poised to for a first round date with the Trail Smoke Eaters but will want to maintain home ice advantage.

Johnson said one of the reasons the Warriors are hard to beat is because they are well coached.

“They always play physical and we’re going to have to respond,” said Johnson, who returned to the lineup to help the Vees defeat the Quesnel Millionaires on Saturday 8-4. “Get pucks deep and work the cycle game. Make sure we’re clearing bodies from the front of the net.”

Johnson agreed the Vees will have continue to put an emphasis on battling hard.

“They have a bunch of guys that like to work hard,” he said. Their captain (Alex) Grieves is a prime example of maybe a guy that doesn’t have every tool in the box but definitely comes to work every night and he finishes the body and goes to the net hard. He’s definitely a tough guy to play against. Grayson (Downing) who has the high-end skill, likes to set up Grieves on the power play. It’s going to be a good game. It’s going to be another good challenge.”

Greive’s leads the Warriors in scoring with 31 goals and 75 points in 57 games while Downing has 33 goals and 68 points in 49 games. The Vees swept the road trip when after defeating the Spruce Kings 4-3 in overtime as Mark MacMillan was the hero tallying his 21st of the season. Against Quesnel, Brendan O’Donnell scored a hat trick to give him 25 goals on the season. Rookie Joey Benik leads the team in the goal department with 28.