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Preview: Vees title defence begins in Merritt

Penticton, BC: The Penticton Vees Fred Page Cup title defence begins at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in Merritt tonight.

Fresh off their fourth BCHL Championship in the past ten seasons, the Vees once again have their sights set on a league championship. After a perfect pre-season in which the Vees went 4-0 with two wins over West Kelowna and two over the Brooks Bandits, they’ll renew their rivalry with the Centennials from last year’s opening round of the Interior Division playoffs where the Vees ended Merritt’s season in seven games.

While rosters in junior hockey have lots of turnover year after the year, the Vees will look to continue their run of success against the Centennials. Over the past five seasons, the Vees have a combined record of 22-12-1-1 against Merritt.

Comparing rosters from last season, the Vees have 99 goals to replace from players who were on the roster at the end of the season and have moved on. The Centennials meanwhile are looking for 114 goals of offence to replace the players who are no longer with the club.

On defence, the Vees have Joe Leahy, Greg Brydon, Kenny Johnson and Jonny Tychonick as returning faces. Joining them will be two NHL-drafted players in Nicky Leivermann (Colorado Avalanche) and Ryan O’Connell (Toronto Maple Leafs) along with 15 year old Luke Reid.

Mat Robson’s brilliance in goal led the Vees to a championship in 2017, and now it will be up to the tandem of Adam Scheel and Nolan Hildebrand to do the same.

The goaltenders will be supported by a forward group that appears to have the firepower the 2016-17 Vees were missing. The team will be short two key pieces for the season opener however, as Massimo Rizzo and Grant Cruikshank aren’t available to play.

As with last season, games can be heard live on EZ Rock 800 AM in the Penticton area, with the pre-game show beginning 20 minutes before the start of the game. You can also listen online by clicking this link Puck drop for tonight’s game is 7:00.