Even with all their success the last few seasons, the Penticton Vees find themselves in uncharted waters starting this weekend as they enter the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup (WCC) in Ft. McMurray, Alta.
Had the WCC existed prior to 2013, the Vees would have made an appearance on their way to the 2012 RBC Cup national title. But the fact is, with the recent advent of the tournament which features the AJHL, SJHL, MJHL and BCHL champions plus the host Ft. McMurray Oil Barons, there aren’t many teams in Western Canada that have had a chance to take part.
This year, the AJHL-champion Spruce Grove Saints are the only franchise that is making a second appearance. They were there last year in Dauphin, Man. but failed to claim one of the two berths to advance to the RBC Cup.
For the Vees, the WCC presents an exciting new chapter but a bit of the unknown as well. Vees play-by-play voice Fraser Rodgers is anticipating the experience as much as the players.
“When you go through the BCHL, you know everybody,” says Rodgers, who is in his fourth season with the club. “With the WCC, it’s a bit of the unknown. Using (pay-per-view partner service) FASTHockey, the coaches have been downloading (opposition) games and FASTHockey is thankfully very helpful for that in providing video.
“But that’s the challenge… getting down to the nuts and bolts of the competition.”
There is one Vees player who has participated in a WCC before and that’s veteran forward Demico Hannoun. When he was a rookie, he helped the Surrey Eagles win the first WCC in 2013. Hannoun has been key in this postseason as well, leading the Vees with 21 points.
Another of the Vees veterans, Cody DePourcq, has extensive playoff experience from his rookie season in 2012 when the Vees won it all but he won’t be on the ice at the WCC. The Penticton native sustained a broken jaw while blocking a shot in Game 3 of the BCHL Finals against Nanaimo. His act of valour now provides inspiration for his teammates.
“(Cody’s play) was huge; his jersey was in the dressing room and it was the last thing the guys saw on their way out,” says Rodgers. “It’s hard not to be motivated when you see a co-captain sacrificing himself. Cody is symbolic of facing adversity and overcoming it.”
The Vees were able to do just that in the Finals, dropping the first two games at home before roaring back with four-straight wins to claim the Fred Page Cup. And even though they’ll be without a leader on the ice like DePourcq, they may get another piece back as talented forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage, out since March 22, has been skating with the team this week. The Harvard commit finished second in Vees scoring in the regular season.
While though they’ll be far from home while at the WCC, there should be some familiar blue-and-white jerseys in the crowd in Ft. McMurray. The Penticton roster features Alberta natives Gabe Bast (Red Deer), Dakota Conroy (Edmonton) and Connor Chartier (Calgary) who will no doubt have relatives attending and there will probably be a few individuals from Vees nation making the trip from the Okanagan.
It’s a new experience for pretty much the entire team and staff, but the approach will remain the same. That point was driven home when they got behind in the BCHL Finals.
“It would have been really easy to change how you play,” says Rodgers. “But they kept to the process, pushing and persevering, sticking to their guns.”
This Vees formula has worked so far and even with a new prize on the horizon, it’s no reason to change course now.