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Series Preview: Vees host resurgent Express in round one

Season wrap up

The Penticton Vees finished first overall in the British Columbia Hockey League standings during the 2017-18 season with a record of 40-12-3-3. This season was the seventh consecutive year the Vees have taken the Interior Division pennant, extending their own league record. It was also the third time in the last four years the Vees have claimed the Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy as the top team in the regular season. With their first place finish, the Vees will host the second wildcard team in the opening round, which happens to be the Coquitlam Express from the Mainland Division.

Coquitlam began the year in the same funk that followed them through the entire 2016-17 season. After back to back losses in Prince George November 24 and 25, the Express’ record sat at a miserable 3-21-1-1. The team made a coaching change by relieving Barry Wolff of his duties and hiring Jason Fortier from out east. Fortier was an assistant coach for the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers last year, and won a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 2015-16 as an assistant coach. Prior to that, Fortier was the head coach of the OJHL’s Toronto Lakeshore Patriots that won the league title in 2014-15. That team was backstopped by former Vees goaltender Mat Robson.

Season series recap

The Vees and Express only matched up twice this season, a home and home series February 14 and 16. In the first game at the South Okanagan Events Centre Penticton carried a 2-0 lead into the third period off goals from Ryan Sandelin and Owen Sillinger. In the opening minutes of the third period Coquitlam cut the Vees lead in half as Jack McNab deflected in a shot from the line on the power play.

Following the goal, the Vees offence came to life as they rattled off five goals in a span of 10:22. Sandelin with his second, Kenny Johnson, Sillinger with his second, Taylor Ward and Wyatt Sloboshan all found the back of the net for Penticton to cruise to the 7-1 victory. Clay Stevenson, normally the backup goalie for the Express, was given the start that night and was on the hook for all seven goals against. Adam Scheel made 20 saves in the Penticton crease.

Two nights later the teams met at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre to finish the season series. Brock Hamm, the Express’ starting goaltender, was back between the pipes and would finish the game with 29 saves. Nicky Leivermann on the power play and Lukas Sillinger gave the Vees a 2-0 lead after the opening period of play with the shots 15-10 for Penticton.

The second period saw the ice tilt heavily in favour of the Vees as they outshoot Coquitlam 12-1 and added a three more goals. Cassidy Bowes five minutes in, Ward on the power play with 6:21 to play in the period and Owen Sillinger shorthanded gave the Vees a commanding 5-0 lead through 40 minutes of play.

The Express managed to save some pride as they ended Scheel’s shutout bid with just 1:12 to play. Again it was McNab finding the back of the net as the Vees took the 5-1 win.

All told, Penticton outscored Coquitlam 12-1, outshot them 77-38, went 2-for-4 on the power play and 6-for-7 on the penalty kill over the course of the two games.

Head to head comparison

Offence

The Vees finished tied for third in the BCHL with 216 goals scored, behind only Wenatchee (241) and Trail (218). The Vees averaged 3.74 goals per game this year, up from 3.25 in 2016-17. Penticton was lead by Owen Sillinger as he paced the Vees with 33 goals, nearly doubling his previous career high of 17. Sillinger also added 34 assists to finish tied for fifth in league scoring with 67 points. Penticton had three players with 20 goals or more, but nine skaters hit double digits in goals with two more at nine goals and three more at eight.

The Express meanwhile finished at the bottom of the BCHL with 138 total goals, an average of 2.38 per game. Before hiring Jason Fortier as their new head coach November 27, the Express were averaging just 2.19 goals per game. Following the change, it improved to 2.53 per game. The Express were lead offensively by Eric Linell as the first-year forward racked up 28 goals, good for over 20 per cent of the Express’ offence. Just two other players, Colby Pederson and Josh Wildauer, hit double digits in goals.

Defence

The Vees gave up just 130 goals over the course of the season, an average of 2.24 per game. Only one team gave up fewer goals than Penticton, the Vernon Vipers (118). The Vees defensive group also chipped in on offence regularly, contributing 35 goals. Nicky Leivermann lead the way with 10 goals in 43 games, while Jonny Tychonick recorded 47 points in 48 games.

Coquitlam finished 13th in goals against this year by allowing 210 goals, an average of 3.62 per game. Again, prior to their coaching change the Express were giving up an average of 4.31 goals a game, and once Fortier took over the number shrank to 3.06. Jordan Schulting, a Penticton native, paced the Express defence in goal scoring as he scored seven times this year while adding 17 assists. Troy Robillard was the overall leading defenceman in scoring for Coquitlam with 26 points. In all, Coquitlam had 22 goals come from the back end this year.

Goaltending

Adam Scheel grabbed the reigns in the Vees net and stood out amongst the best in his rookie season in the BCHL. The 6’4” native of Lakewood, Ohio finished near the top of the leaderboard in every statistical category. Scheel finished second in goals against average (2.08), third in save percentage (.927), first in wins (29), third in minutes played (2,620) and tied for second in shutouts (3).

After beginning the year with Reid Cooper as the starter, the Express made a trade with the Humboldt Broncos in Saskatchewan November 10 to acquire the rights to Brock Hamm. Hamm, a Western Hockey League veteran, didn’t get off to a great start in the BCHL going winless in his first seven appearances, but finished the season with a very respectable 2.91 GAA and .911 save percentage. He ended the year with a 10-14-0-3 record and will no doubt be the game one starter for Coquitlam.

Special teams

Penticton’s power-play woes were well documented last season as the team finished 13th in the BCHL at 17.5 per cent. It was a different story this year as the Vees power play was dangerous all season and finished third in the league at 22 per cent. Taylor Ward led all Vees with 20 power-play points while Owen Sillinger and Tychonick tied at 19. Sillinger also chipped in with four shorthanded goals, tied with four other players for second in the league. The Vees had just four power plays against Coquitlam in their two meetings, but went 2-for-4.

The penalty kill for the Vees set the pace in the BCHL, finishing atop the league at 86.1 per cent. It was especially proficient on the road with an 89.1 per cent success rate. In all, Penticton gave up just 34 power-play goals this year, second fewest in the league behind only the Wenatchee Wild (32). Penticton killed off six of seven Express power plays this year.

Coquitlam’s power play finished 15th in the league clicking at a 14.7 per cent success rate. Unsurprisingly, Linell led the Express with 13 power-play points, six of them goals. He also scored one shorthanded goal.

The penalty kill for Coquitlam was near the middle of the pack, finishing 10th in the league at 81.7 per cent. The team gave up 46 power-play goals this year, and also 11 shorthanded goals which tied for third most in the league.

Series Dates

Game one – South Okanagan Events Centre Friday, March 2, 2018 7:00 p.m.

Game two – South Okanagan Events Centre Saturday, March 3, 2018 6:00 p.m.

Game three РPoirier Sports and Leisure Centre Tuesday, March 6, 2018  7:00 p.m.

Game four – Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre Wednesday, March 7, 2018 7:00 p.m.

Game five – South Okanagan Events Centre Friday March 9, 2018 7:00 p.m.*

Game six – Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre Sunday, March 11 2018 6:45 p.m.*

Game seven – South Okanagan Events Centre Monday, March 12 7:00 p.m.*

*If necessary