The two hottest teams in the BC Hockey League will go head-to-head Friday night in Penticton as the Vees play host to the West Kelowna Warriors.
Since the Christmas break, both teams have sliced through their competition. The Warriors 13-2-1-0, the Vees, a tidy 13-2-0-0.
This is nothing new for the Vees who have lost just six times all season and have already clinched the league's regular season title.
It is for a Warriors team that struggled to find its way at times over the first 36 games of the season.
While they've won the first six games of a rare seven straight away from home, and are unbeaten in eight overall, red hot is a phrase coach Rylan Ferster wouldn't use to describe his team.
"I don't think that's how we're looking at it. We've had a lot of ups and downs this year, a lot, and we're still not where we want to be" said Ferster.
"I don't think our group looks at ourselves and says wow, we're red hot or we're flying on all cylinders. That's not who we are. We're just not that way."
If others want to see it that ways, Ferster said that's fine. "We want to be playing our best hockey at the most important time of the year (playoffs), and that's the focus for us."
Friday's game is the last time these two teams will meet each other, at least during the regular season.
They haven't butted heads since back-to-back games just prior to the Christmas break. The Warriors won the home half 2-0, their only win over the Vees in six tries.
As for this game being a litmus test for where his team is, Ferster doesn't see it quite that way.
"I don't think one game is going to define our hockey team. We're not putting the weight of the world on our kid's shoulders.
"I think it's two good hockey teams who are going to play tomorrow night. It's no different when we play Vernon next week, or Salmon Arm."
The Warriors have been playing their best hockey in all three zones of late. They've been getting timely goals including four in double overtime during the streak and very good goaltending. They did allow five against Powell River, the most goals against in a single game in nearly a month.
They are also getting healthy.
Forward Jake LeBrun, acquired from Prince George at the trade deadline last month is expected to make his Warriors debut against the Vees.
Ferster said he'll slot LeBrun on a top scoring line alongside Liam Blackburn and Garrett Forster.
Following Friday's game the Warriors finally return home for the first time in three weeks when they entertain Langley Saturday night at Royal LePage Place.
The Warriors enter the weekend seven points up on third place Salmon Arm in the Interior Division. Their magic number to clinch second place and home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs is five.
The Vernon Vipers are bringing a familiar face back to the ice with the last card of the 2015-16 season.
Forward Nic Rasovic, 19, will be returning to the club after a stint in Alberta with the Drayton Valley Thunder.
Rasovic is familiar with the Vipers having played 35 regular season games with the team during the 2014-15 season. He was dealt to Drayton Valley for future considerations, but after spending time in the Alberta city decided to return home.
The Vipers had an opening on their roster after trading Griffin James at the trading deadline, leaving the team with 21 players.
Rasovic is a veteran of Junior A player, having played more than 120 games including playoffs, with stops in Vernon, Drayton Valley and Coquitlam.
The Vipers' next home game is Friday against the Langley Rivermen in their only visit of the season.
The Penticton Vees are regular season champions in the BCHL for the second time in a row.
And they took only three minutes and 22 seconds to seal the deal, Saturday.
The Vees scored three rapid-fire goals in the third period to come from behind and beat the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 3-2 on the road.
Shutout for the first 51-minutes of the game, the Vees’ Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro combined for three quick goals to stun the Bulldogs, winning the Vees' fifth in a row and 10th in their last 11 games.
Ryan Finnegan and Nathan Dingmann scored power-play goals in the first and second for the Bulldogs, who looked well on their way to their fourth consecutive win, until the Vees pulled the rug out from out under them.
Zach Driscoll stopped 23 of 25 shots to pick up his 18th win. Brody Claeys allowed three goals on 35 Vees shots to take the loss.
Playing their third game in three days, the Vees got behind the eight-ball midway through the first after the Bulldogs power-play broke a scoreless tie. After a scramble out front of the Vees net, Finnegan grabbed a rebound and managed to fire the puck through a crowd in the crease at 9:51 for the ice-breaker.
The score remained unchanged until late in the second when the Bulldogs power-play doubled their lead. Chris Schutz had his one-timer from the blue-line tipped out front by Dingmann and up and over Driscoll at 18:27.
Time was running out on a comeback until Jost took a pass up the middle, split the defence and, with a defender draped on his back, slid a backhand underneath the sprawled goalie at 11:24.
He then turned playmaker, firing a cross-ice pass to an open Fabbro, who put the puck over the goalie’s glove to tie the game at 13:35 on a power-play.
The game-winner came 71-seconds later when a Fabbro point-shot deflected off a defender's glove and into the net at 14:46.
The win was the Vees’ 44th of the season.
The Vees (44-6-1-0) are now off until next Friday, when they host the red-hot West Kelowna Warriors.
The West Kelowna Warriors continued their winning ways Saturday, completing a two-game weekend sweep in Trail.
The Warriors got two goals each from Garrett Forster and Jonathan Desbiens in a 4-1 win over the Smoke Eaters.
The win was the Warriors seventh in a row and sixth straight on their current stretch of seven straight away from home.
Forster staked the Warriors to a 2-0 first period lead with power-play goals 5 minutes and 30 seconds apart.
Both came on slap shots from the left point.
Desbiens stretched the lead to 3-0 with 38th of the season off a wrist shot that caught the bar and went in.
After Trail got one back Desbiens closed out the scoring 13 minutes into the third period.
Keelan Williams turned aside 24 of 25 shots to earn his 11th win of the season and seventh straight.
The Warriors went 2-6 with the man advantage. Trail was held without a goal in their four opportunities with the man advantage.
The win keeps the Warriors nine points up on Salmon Arm in the Interior Division. The Warriors magic number to clinch second place and home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs is five.
The Warriors put their longest winning streak of the season on thee line Friday when they conclude their road odyssey in Penticton.
The West Kelowna Warriors continue to roll at just the right time.
The Warriors made it five in a row during a seven game road trip and six straight overall with a convincing 9-0 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters Friday in Trail.
Kyler Hope scored a pair of goals to lead the way while Brett Mennear and Kyle Marino each had a goal and two assists as the Warriors spread the scoring around.
Twelve of the 18 skaters hot the scoresheet.
Matthew Greenfield turned aside all 27 shots he faced for his second career BCHL shutout.
Tyler Anderson, Rylan Yaremko, Kristian Blumenshein, Quin Foreman and Liam Blackburn also scored for the Warriors.
Jonathan Desbiens, who had 19 points over a six game stretch, was held to just one assist.
The Warriors broke this game wide open with a six goal outburst in the second period.
Leading 1-0, West Kelowna scored three times in a three minute span early in the second to build up a 4-0 lead and chase Trail starter Bailey MacBurnie.
This marked the third straight game MacBurnie has been lifted for backup Linden Marshall against the Warriors.
Marshall allowed three more in the second and a pair of markers in the first minute of the third period.
The Warriors power-play clicked on two of four opportunities. The Smokies were held without a goal on their four opportunities.
The same two teams go at it again tomorrow night in Trail as the Warriors look to extend their winning streak.
Friday's win coupled with Salmon Arm's overtime loss to Merritt pushed the Warriors nine points up on the Silverbacks in the race for second spot in the Interior and home ice advantage in a likely first head-to-head meeting in the opening round of the playoffs.
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