They know the 2016 Royal Bank Cup is May 14-22 in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask.
And the Penticton Vees fully expect to be one of five teams in the national Junior A hockey championship tournament.
Until spring arrives, the Vees will fulfill their obligations in the B.C. Hockey League, where they are runaway leaders at 33-4 and trying real hard not to check the RBC website schedule.
“We’re not thinking about that right now,” said forward Tyson Jost, moments after the Vees rang in the New Year by smothering the Vernon Vipers 6-0 Friday night before 2,160 fans at Kal Tire Place.
“We’re not afraid of our goal and that is our goal: we wanna make it to the Royal Bank Cup again this year and our goal is to win this year. It’s something that’s in the back of our minds, but again, one game at a time and focus on getting ready for the playoffs here and take it one round at a time.”
The Vees lost 2-1 in double overtime to the Carleton Place Canadians in last year’s RBC semifinal in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Scott Conway pocketed three goals and two assists as the Vees stopped the Vipers for a fifth straight outing. It was Vernon’s worst loss to the Vees with three of the other four defeats coming by one goal, including two games in overtime.
Defenceman Dante Fabbro supplied a deuce, while Jost counted 1+2. Both players are projected as early first-round draft picks at the NHL amateur lottery next June in Buffalo. The Vipers fell to 16-21-3, fourth in the Interior Division and 35 points back of the Vees, who visit Kal Tire Place again this Friday.
Easton Brodzinski chipped in with three assists, while Owen Sillinger collected a pair. The Vees outshot Vernon 37-26, holding the Vipers to a seven-shot count for half the game. Zachary Driscoll registered his second straight shutout over the Vipers while going to 13-2. Andrew Shortridge fell to 13-17.
“It was obviously pretty exciting when you get a win that big,” said Jost, the Vees’ captain. “I thought we came out strong and it’s good when you come off Christmas break and everybody’s excited to get in the locker room and see the boys again so I was happy with our result for sure.”
Jost, Fabbro and Liam Finlay of the Vipers were presented commemorative plaques in a pre-game ceremony marking Team Canada West’s gold medal in the recent World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Cobourg, Ont.
Fabbro converted a feed from Jost in the mid-slot just 96 seconds after the ceremony with Vernon captain Colton McCarthy in the box for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty eight seconds into Game 1 of 2016. McCarthy was unhappy with the referee’s opening puck drop.
Jost made it 2-0 at 8:57 of the second stanza when he nicely buried a saucer pass by Brodzinski with Viper d-man Griffin James sprawled on the ice between the two Vees.
Just under three minutes later, Conway went top cheddar from the left hashmarks for his 11th powerplay goal of the year. Viper blueliner Latrell Charleson was off for roughing. Jost and Brodzinski picked up assists.
Conway neatly deflected a point shot by d-man Griffin Mendel with one left in the second for his 33rd of the season. Fabbro connected on a wrister from the point with 25 seconds left in the period, just 20 seconds into another McCarthy unsportsmanlike minor. McCarthy also received a misconduct and was benched in the third by head coach Mark Ferner.
Conway concluded the scoring midway through the third period with Sillinger drawing the assist.
Driscoll stoned Jagger Williamson in front after a great pass by Christian Cakebread just a few seconds before Conway headed up ice for the final snipe. Driscoll’s finest save came with 7:50 to play when Ben Butcher drove hard to the net against two defenders.
The Vees welcomed back slick d-man Seamus Donohue, who nicely quarterbacked a few powerplays, and forward Dixon Bowen. Former Viper Demico Hannoun and d-man Gabe Bast are still on injured reserve. Hannoun said he won’t be ready this Friday.
Vernon was outmanned most shifts as the Vees rolled three lines until late in the final period.
“Not what we wanted pretty much sums it up pretty simply,” said Viper assistant coach Kevin Kraus, a former Vernon captain. “When you lose 6-0 first game into the New Year is not something you want to start with. We were undisciplined right off the start and we gave them momentum and you give that team momentum, it’s a snowball effect. We’ve played Penticton tight all year, but we come out here and basically lay an egg. We let our emotions get the best of us and stopped playing hockey. We kind of just ran around and tried to hit them and our structure went right out the window.”
The Vipers are one digit in front of the Trail Smoke Eaters and after facing Penticton, battle the Merritt Centennials, West Kelowna Warriors, Trail and Salmon Arm Silverbacks to round out the first half of January.
Conway, who just signed a scholarship deal with the Providence College Friars, pulled a second straight hat trick as Penticton punished Salmon Arm 6-1 Saturday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.