It’s all coming down to the wire if the Penticton Vees (34-10-2-3) hope to hang another banner from the crowded rafters of the South Okanagan Events Centre for 2017/18.
Hot off a 4-1 road win Wednesday over the Trail Smoke Eaters (30-15-4-1), part of an exhausting six-game road trip, the Vees will be back on home turf Friday for the first time since Jan. 20.
Both Friday’s game against Trail and Saturday’s hosting of the Vernon Vipers (33-13-1-4) are critical according to head coach, general manager and president Fred Harbinson in winning that seventh consecutive division championship.
“No other team has won more than four division championships in a row and while it’s not the end goal, obviously it’s one of them,” said Harbinson. “And like I said, when the banners go up in this building they’ll stay there until the building comes down and it’s something they can be a part of so that’s the kind of the thing that we’re hanging on right now.
“I think both games are going to be very emotional, very spirited. Everybody knows what’s at stake and it really gets you prepared for what’s going to happen in the playoffs in three weeks time.”
In the bunched up Interior Division of the B.C. Hockey League only eight points separate the top four teams.
In 49 games this season, Penticton has 73 points, just two ahead of Vernon but with two games in hand. The Wenatchee Wild (33-13-3-1) has 70 and Trail 65, both having played 50 games.
The Vees and Wild play for the final time this season on Feb. 24 at the SOEC. Vernon hosts Langley Friday.
Coming down the home stretch Vees captain Owen Sillinger feels his teammates have what it takes to get the job done.
“We know what’s on the line here, we’ve got a couple of big opponents coming in here so it’s a big four points up for grabs and we’re going to be ready,” he said. “We’ve got nine games left and obviously the standings are tight which makes it fun and I think the biggest thing right now is worrying about ourselves.
“We play the way we have to and focus on the little things that makes who we are and that will be good for us in the long run.”
According to Harbinson because of the congested standings, every point is important.
“There’s so many good teams in our league there’s really no easy-round opponent so it’s nothing to do with who you’re playing it’s getting that home ice advantage,” he said. “We’ve proven we can win on the road, we have the most wins in the B.C. Hockey on the road but hey, if you have the opportunity to get an extra home game against a Vernon, a Wenatchee, any of these teams, for me it’s something that can really help having in your back pocket.”
And that’s why the Vernon game Saturday is so important.
“The way the series (Vipers, Vees) has gone this year this is the tie-breaker game,” said Harbinson. “We’ve got two wins, a loss and two ties. The first tie-breaker (if there is a tie in the division standings) is overall wins and the second tie-breaker is wins against each other.
“It’s also the final game before potentially seeing each other in a playoff match in which the last three seasons we’ve been fortunate to end their season.”
Saturday’s game is also the annual Valley First Feed the Valley night. Fans are asked to bring a non-perishable food item in support of the Salvation Army Food Bank. Valley First will also be raffling off an autographed Vee’s jersey along with four club seat tickets and buffet vouchers to the Wenatchee Wild Game Feb. 24.
After this weekend the Vees will wrap up their three-game home stand against the Coquitlam Express (14-33-1-3) Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Game time Friday is 7 p.m. and Saturday is a 6 p.m. start.