As defending B.C. Hockey League champions, the Penticton Vees are again this year the team everybody wants to meet and beat.
The Vees – now ranked fifth in the 132-team Canadian Junior A Hockey League – make their first visit to Kal Tire Place Friday night for what should be the highest attendance figure this season for the Vernon Vipers.
Head coach/GM Mark Ferner has been watching reels of video on the speedy Vees, who are getting prime-time scoring from Nicholas Jones (6-12-18) and Ty Amonte (6-11-17).
Jones racked up 63 points in 43 games after leaving the Ohio State Buckeyes early last NCAA last season. It was his second season in Columbus.
Amonte is the son of retired NHLer Tony Amonte and in his rookie BCHL season. He has a scholarship with the Boston University Terriers.
Penticton also relies on offence from Wisconsin product Grant Cruikshank and Regina’s Owen Sillinger, son of former NHL forward Mike Sillinger. Both players have 13 points. Cruikshank has committed to the Wisconsin Badgers, while Sillinger has signed a letter of intent with the Arizona State Sun Devils
“There is no surprise on how they play the game,” said Ferner, whose crew shaded the Trail Smoke Eaters 2-1 Saturday night at Cominco Arena. “We’ll have to take the body. Their forward group is talented and their defence core is big but maybe not as mobile as they have been.”
Huge d-men Connor Clouston and Cooper Watson are both on Vernon’s injured reserve, but Ferner expects to have at least one of them return for Friday’s tilt.
Jack Judson, who enjoyed a strong training camp, was summoned from Delta Midget Academy and saw a regular shift in Trail. The 16-year-old is practising with the Snakes this week.
After a bad second period cost them in a 4-3 loss to the Smokies Friday night at home, the Vipers turned in a stellar complete game before 919 fans in Trail.
“From start to finish, everybody had a stake and impact in the game,” said Ferner. “We were a lot better in getting to the net for second touches and opportunities.”
Kale Howarth struck first for the Smokies as he strolled down the left wall and snapped a hard shot under the bar past first star Ty Taylor 2:46 after the national anthem. Howarth has 10 snipes on the season.
The Vipers enjoyed a 15-6 shot sadvantage in the opening 20 minutes but couldn’t beat former North Okanagan Knights’ tender Zach Dyment.
The Vipers kept pressing in the second period and were rewarded at 10:12 on a powerplay when captain Riley Brandt finished off a nice passing play with Jesse Lansdell and Jagger Williamson. Brandt has five goals.
Newbie Keith Anderson converted the winner three minutes later by deflecting a point shot from Michael Ufberg. Anderson, a former Victoria Royal, used his big frame well down low all night.
The Smokies tried to push the pace in the third period, but the Vipers shut them down and outshot them 18-8. Final shots were 47-24 Snakes.
“It’s safe to say that it was an off night for the guys,” said Trail assistant coach Curtis Toneff. “You’ve got to feel for Zach Dyment, who was unreal in net for us again. Hopefully the pace of these divisional games is a bit of a wake-up call for some of our guys to show them what it’s going to be like down the stretch.”
The Vipers, who were missing four 20-year-olds, improved to 8-6-2, good for third place in the Interior Conference. Vernon is a single digit back of the Merritt Centennials and two points ahead of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The Smokies are one point behind the Silverbacks, while the Warriors are last with 11 points.
Like last year, two good teams will miss the playoffs.
“You wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Ferner. “It’s good for the league.”
SNAKE BITES: The Vipers entertain the Centennials Saturday night…Zandee, who missed Saturday’s game with illness, turned 21 Tuesday…Jones pocketed 2+1 as the Vees grounded the Warriors 6-3 before 1,008 fans Saturday night at Royal LePage Place…Ex-Viper Brendan Barry recorded 18 saves as the Chilliwack Chiefs edged the Cents 4-3 Sunday in Merritt. Barry, who started the year with Nanaimo Clippers, shut out the Wenatchee Wild for the final 31:12 in a 4-3 Chiefs’ double-OT loss Saturday night before 2,329 fans at Prospera Centre…Californian Elijiah Barriga bagged his ninth goal of the year at 1:16 of double OT as Salmon Arm stopped Nanaimo 4-3 Saturday before 1,325 fans at Frank Crane Arena…ex-Viper D Callum Volpe earned two assists and second star as the Powell River Kings iced the Langley Rivermen 5-1 Sunday in front of 800 at Hap Parker Arena.