The Penticton Vees are on pace for a sixth consecutive Interior division title but with losses in three of their last four games including back-to-back home ice losses for the first time in years, should the perennial contenders be concerned with playoffs just around the corner?
The Vees had a 2-0 lead over the Smoke Eaters last Wednesday only to see Trail score three times in a nine minute span to earn a 3-2 regulation win at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Penticton bench boss Fred Harbinson went on a very public rant about his disgust for his team’s effort and promised a grueling bag skate the following day. It seemed to have the desired effect with a much improved effort Saturday night hosting the Vipers but thanks in large part to some stellar goaltending from Ty Taylor, the Snakes held on for a 4-2 win in Penticton Saturday night.
Penticton has yet to win in 2017 but the Vees do hold a 12 point lead over second place Vernon for top spot in the Interior with a game in hand, a lead that’s certainly unlikely to change much in the final seven weeks of the season. But should recent events be concern for Harbinson come the post-season?
Last year the West Kelowna Warriors got hot at just the right time and defeated the Vees in six games in the division final series en route to their RBC Cup Championship. The Vees were certainly a deeper club than West Kelowna but when it comes to the playoffs there are just so many variables at play. This year, the Vees can’t necessarily boast that level of depth advantage, at least when it comes to the Vernon Vipers.
The Vipers had a tremendous start to the season but struggled through the month of November. But the last month has been terrific for the Vipers who are now riding a four game win streak and an eight game undefeated streak with six wins and two ties. Of course prior to Saturday’s win in Penticton it was a tumultuous week off the ice for the Vipers who announced forward Christian Cakebread had left the team to begin his NCAA career early at Niagara University. If that wasn’t bad enough, Vernon also announced fellow forwards Luke Gingras and captain Riley Brandt will be out for 4 to 6 weeks (Gingras was noted to miss an “undetermined” amount of time) with hand injuries.
These are big blows to be sure, but this Vipers squad is deep, especially at forward, and all signs point to reinforcements coming before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Sunday the Vipers shipped 20 year-old forward Nic Rasovic to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for future considerations, opening up a coveted 20 year-old roster spot. The Vipers actually have an import roster spot open as well so Mark Ferner has the ability now to add a significant piece for what could potentially be a lengthy post-season run.