Interior final preview

There’s something missing at Royal LePage Place.  Something that a serious home of Junior Hockey needs, and West Kelowna just doesn’t have.

A banner.

The Warriors moved to West Kelowna in 2006.  They’ve been a darn good team that whole time – A solid club playing in arguably the toughest division in the country.

There have been a couple of glimpses along the way.  In 2007-08 the Warriors finished in second in the conference, but got swept by Penticton in the Interior final (the Vees won the league but lost in the Doyle Cup that year).  In 2010-11, the Warriors were an exciting group but got knocked out by Vernon in the second round.

2012-13 has been a rousing success for the Warriors organization so far.  There was a lot of buzz before the season even began, and this team has turned out to be entertaining and tough to play.  A terrific run late in the year gave the Warriors home ice in the opening round against Merritt.  The series was physical and hard fought, but West Kelowna prevailed in five.

And so, the Warriors are now ready to face an even bigger rival, with the Interior Conference Championship on the line.  The series begins on Friday.  Let’s take a look at what to expect.

bar no JH 12.29

Who will post the victory?

In West Kelowna:

2012-13 regular season:

The Warriors finished the regular season with a 30-13-4-9 record, good for second in the division (and 4th overall in the league).  Going 17-2-2-2 to end the season also brought West K to within two points of the Vees, although Penticton had clinched the division weeks beforehand.

  • The Warriors ended the regular season as the highest scoring team in the BCHL, with 205 goals (8 more than second place Penticton)

Round one:

The Tribe then dispatched Merritt in the first round, winning in five tight games (6-1, 3-2 OT, 3-4, 3-2, 7-4).  This really was a battle – and the Warriors were very glad to have 8 days off to recover and prepare.

  •  I would argue that Tyler Briggs was the first star of the first round.  His 93.5 save percentage was more than reliable, and he also made those timely saves any teams needs in the post-season (like when he robbed Scott Patterson with the Warriors up 4-3 in game five).
  • WK cooked at 6/30 on the PP (20%) and killed off 18 of 23 (78.3%) against Merritt.

In Penticton:

2012-13 regular season:

Penticton had a short summer, but it didn’t show.  The Vees finished the year with a 35-16-0-5 record, good for first in the division (and 3rd overall in the league).  The Vees kinda slumped into the post-season, dropping four of their final five – but they had already clinched, and were clearly resting some of their key guys and looking ahead to the post-season.

      The Vees allowed fewer goals than any other team in the BCHL this year, conceding just 137 goals against.   The Warriors were 4th in this category, allowing 151 GA.

Round one:

Penticton then dispatched the upstart Silverbacks in the first round, winning in four straight (4-2, 4-2, 3-1, 5-1).

  • By the sounds of things, Chad Katunar was a difference maker in the series, allowing just 6 goals in the four games, and stopping 94% of the few (just 100) pucks he faced.
  • Penticton led after the first period of each game, and only trailed for 19:13 all series long.
  • The Vees cooked at 6/22 on the PP (27.3%) and 14/15 on the PK (93.3%)
The Vees have added some big pieces, like power forward Jedd Soleway from Vernon

The Vees have added some big pieces, like power forward Jedd Soleway from Vernon

Head to head:

After thumping their two opponents at the BCHL showcase to start the year, the Warriors faced Penticton in their home opener, with first-place in the division on the line.  Penticton would score the victory in overtime that night, and go on to win the Interior.  Here’s how the season series broke down:

Sept. 14 @ RLP – 4-3 Vees (OT)

Sept. 22 @ RLP – 5-3 Vees

Oct. 23 @ SOEC – 4-3 Vees (OT)

Oct. 26 @ SOEC – 4-1 Vees

Dec. 28 @ SOEC – 5-2 Warriors

Dec. 29 @ RLP – 4-2 Vees

Jan. 26 @ SOEC – 2-1 Vees.

Now, I know all of you are thinking about it, so let’s mention it and then move on.  Yes, these two teams haven’t played since the tussle on Jan. 26th.  After a mild contest that night, the teams got nasty after the final buzzer and combined for 25 games in suspensions plus some extras.

Is the brawl relevant anymore?  Not in my opinion.  I mean, if you are looking for lingering bad blood, there’s plenty of other places to find it in a rivalry like this.  These two teams don’t like each other.  That encounter wasn’t the cause of that blood, just a symptom and the latest flare-up.  And in a series we expect to be as tight as this one, I seriously doubt players are going to take risks just to settle scores from a dust-up two months ago.  Fights happen in hockey.  Move on.

So, is the score in the season series relevant?  Well that’s a better question.  Penticton won the season series 6-1, and took all three outings at RLP.  In fact, the Warriors’ victory on Dec. 28 was their first win in Penticton in more than two years.

I’d say there are two upshots here.

1) Yes, the Vees do have the history on their side.  But that goes without saying.  Pen won it all last year.   They won the division again this year.  They are the favourites going in, and beating the Warriors in 6 of 7 this year is a part of that.  At this time of year, teams need to be mindful of the history but not dwell on it.  And that goes for both sides.  I mean, does anyone out there think the Vees will underestimate West Kelowna going in?  Just because they dominated the season series?  Not anyone who was at any of the matchups this year, or has watched West Kelowna since, basically, Dec. 28th.

2) I do think that game on Dec. 28th was huge for the Warriors.  The Vees were awful that night, and Coach Fred Harbinson admitted as much.  However, I was also starting to wonder if the Warriors had a mental block (or just a lack of belief) against Pen.  Even if it was three months ago, I think that triumph will do wonders for the Warriors’ confidence level heading in.

In a series like this, goaltending can make all the difference in the world

In a series like this, goaltending can make all the difference in the world

And of course, both teams could be said to be trending.

Including playoffs, the Warriors have won 8 of their past 9 and have a hot streak that spans 2013.  Their loss in Merritt in game three was the first since Feb. 17th.

Did the Vees slump into the playoffs a little?  Sure.  But they rested key guys when they could afford it and have now won their past four (over a Salmon Arm squad that is tough to play against).

At the end of the day, you have the two highest scoring teams in the BCHL this year. You have a couple of the better defensive teams.  You have #3 overall against #4 overall.  You have the defending champs putting their strap on the line.  And you have a big-time grudge match between a couple of heavyweights.

What more could you ask?

Schedule:

  • Game one – Fri. Mar 29th @ SOEC
  • Game two –Sat. Mar 30th @ SOEC
  • Game three – Mon. Apr 1st @ RLP
  • Game four – Tues. Apr 2nd @ RLP
  • * Game five – Thu. Apr. 4th @ SOEC
  • * Game six – Fri. Apr. 5th @ RLP
  • * Game seven – Sun. Apr 7th @ SOEC
    • * If necessary.
    • All games at 7pm

Naturally, I will have a broadcast of each game.  PPV webcasts are available at at www.fasthockey.com.  Free audio streaming is also available at www.ustream.tv/channel/warriors-away.

Also check out Vees broadcaster Fraser Rodgers’ blog for a Penticton perspective.

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