It’s finally here. The Penticton Vees (6-1-0-0) welcome the Trail Smoke Eaters (2-5-0-0) to the SOEC in their London Drugs home opener; game time is 6 pm. The Vees first seven games of the season were on the road over a 20-day stretch and more impressively, they won six of their first seven, including Friday’s 3-1 win in West Kelowna.
Grant Cruikshank scored a pair of goals and Nicholas Jones scored the other, as the Vees won in their first divisional game of the season. Cruikshank and Jones scored two-minutes apart early in the first period, and Cruikshank scored again early in middle frame. Mat Robson picked up his fifth win of the season, turning aside 24 of 25 shots.
Trail didn’t play Friday, as they were in Prince George on Thursday, where they dropped a 6-4 decision to the Spruce Kings. Under new Head Coach Cam Keith, the Smokies have dropped four of their last five games. Trail comes into the game eight points back of the Vees, as its first versus sixth in the Interior. However, it’s early and the standings can fluctuate and a Trail win tonight would put them two points out of third place in the Interior.
The Vees have a sign outside of their dressing room that reads “Home ice is an advantage,” and have they ever taken that to heart. Since the SOEC opened in 2008, the Vees have compiled a 184-31-5-11 record in 230 games; that’s a .830 winning percentage. The Vees were 27-1-1-0 in this building last season and were 4-0 at home against the Smokies.
Prior to the game, the Vees will be introducing the 2016-17 team, along with unveiling two new banners won last season, and the Ring of Honour. Fans are asked to be in their seats by 6 pm for the start of the pre-game ceremony. The Vees will also be wearing their new Third Jerseys tonight. A jersey that was designed to honour the 50 plus years of hockey history in Penticton.
Trail’s struggles in Penticton have been well documented and for good reason. The Smokies have lost 11 straight at the SOEC going back four years. Their last win at the SOEC was on March 1st, 2013, a 3-2 double overtime win. They would like nothing more than to spoil the party tonight.
Mat Robson will likely get the start in goal again for the Vees and you can’t argue the numbers. Robson owns a 5-1 record, with a 1.59 goals-against average and sports a .942 save percentage. He leads all BCHL goalies in wins, goals-against average and save percentage; he’s also tied for the shutout lead.
Penticton dressed all 21-skaters for warm-up last night, eventually going with 11 forwards and seven defenceman. It’s unclear what they’ll do tonight but we could very well see the same approach.
Rookie Ty Amonte leads the Vees in scoring through seven games with 11 points, followed by Owen Sillinger and Ryley Risling who both have eight. Grant Cruikshank leads the Vees in goal-scoring with six.
Luke Santerno has had a great start to the season for the Smoke Eaters, leading the way with four goals and 10 points in seven games. Santerno was acquired by the Smokies in an off-season trade with the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Their top-tine is one, two, and three in scoring, as Santerno’s line-mates Kale Howarth and Ross Armour each have eight points.
Tonight marks the start of a stretch that sees the Vees play three of their next four games at the SOEC.
Fans can hear tonight’s game on EZ Rock AM 800, starting with the CIBC Wood Gundy pre-game show at 5:40 pm. The game will also be broadcasted on www.fasthockey.com The pre-game ceremony will be carried live both over the radio and on the BCHL pay-per-view.