The bar has been set by the Penticton Vees and it will be up to the Vernon Vipers to rise above it when they visit the South Okanagan Events Centre tonight.
Vernon, fifth in the Interior Division at 2-3-0-2, visits the first-place Vees (7-1) in what should be a challenging B.C. Hockey League weekend for the Snakes. The fourth-place West Kelowna Warriors (3-2-0-2) visit Wesbild Centre Saturday night.
“It’s huge; it’s a big test for us,” said Vipers’ captain Brett Corkey. “Playing the best teams in the division, it’s going to gauge where we’re going to end up at the end of the season. I think we’ll be ready.”
Vernon is coming off back-to-back losses to the Prince George Spruce Kings and Trail Smoke Eaters. To have a chance against Penticton, the Vipers will need a consistent effort, on special teams in particular. They went 0-for-10 on the man advantage, while allowing five goals on 15 penalty kills.
“We were a little let down by the performance we put on last weekend,” said Corkey. “We’ve been a little too lighthearted with the way we’ve been playing. We won some games by quite a margin, and we were a little lacklustre after that. This week it’s a lot more business like.”
Vipers’ assistant coach Dave Robinson can relate to the early-season adversity the players are going through. In his 20-year-old season with the Vipers (2010-11), they went 0-2 on opening weekend.
“A few people were panicking then, but we came back and beat Penticton twice the next weekend,” he said.
“The big thing for us now is to get back to basics. This week we’ve just been working on getting pucks on net. When you have trouble scoring, you just got to get it there and have guys going to the net.”
As the defending RBC Cup national Junior A champions, the Vees lost a good chunk of the talent they brought in for the playoff run. They have just four returning players – forwards Wade Murphy and Cody DePourcq, netminder Chad Katunar and defenceman Troy Stecher – but they are on a four-game win streak.
Corkey isn’t surprised to see Penticton back atop the standings.
“It’s like Vernon – once you get that winning mentality it’s easier to keep that going,” said the Calgary product.
“You’ve got guys who have a taste of that championship run, so it’s easier to keep that momentum going and they’re doing a good job of that. We just have to match that intensity they’re going to come out with and that desire they have.”
Stecher, Penticton’s captain, is always happy to battle the Vipers.
“It’s a rivalry that everyone understands and everyone can’t take for granted,” said the Richmond native. “It’s just another two points that we have to take care of.”
The Vees shaded Vernon 3-2 in overtime in their season opener at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack, and Stetcher believes they can build off that.
“It’s going to help us mentally,” he said. “We’re going to have that upper edge on them. I think they lost two in a row this weekend, so they are going to have some bad blood.”
The Warriors, meanwhile, have just one win in their last five games. They bowed 3-2 in overtime to the Smoke Eaters Tuesday in Trail. They host the Smokies tonight at Royal LePage Place.
SNAKE BITES: Former Viper Aaron Volpatti will be greeting fans and signing autographs at the RBC Cup booth on the Wesbild concourse for Saturday night’s game. Volpatti, a winger with the Vancouver Canucks, was named the Vernon committee’s honourary chair to help promote the RBC national junior A championships in May 2014…Vees’ Michael Rebry (5-6-11), Sam Mellor (4-7-11) and Wade Murphy (3-8-11) are four, five, six in BCHL scoring. The Warriors’ Max French is No. 8 with 7-3-10. Former Viper Marcus Basara has 4-3-7 in seven games…The Warriors released Vernon’s Devon Hascarl. He is now with the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies.