Record year for Vees

Colton Davies

The Penticton Vees' calendar year has been highlighted by a Cinderella run to become B.C. Hockey League champions, hosting the Western Canada Cup and advancing to the semifinal of the RBC Cup.

Penticton finished atop the BCHL's Interior division for a sixth-straight year in the 2016-17 regular season, which meant a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Vees' playoff run was almost spoiled early by the surprising Merritt Centennials, who took them to Game 7 in the second round before a convincing win by Penticton to end the series.

A classic divisional final featured the Vees and the Vernon Vipers followed. Penticton bested their rival in seven games to advance to the BCHL final.

Like the previous two playoffs series, the finals against another powerhouse, the Chilliwack Chiefs, needed seven games.

In overtime of a scoreless Game 7, forward Duncan Campbell scored the goal of his life at the Prospera Centre in Chilliwack to give the Vees their fourth league banner in 10 years.

"To win three game sevens in a row to win a championship, it's never easy," Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson said. "For the organization, to win four times in the past 10 years and be in the finals five times, its been a nice run."

Penticton was guaranteed a spot in the Western Canada Cup as the host team, but they went in through the front door and had an impressive tournament.

The Vees won the second-place game in front of their fans to punch their ticket to the RBC Cup. They were once again the Chiefs' kryptonite, beating Chilliwack in what was a rematch of the BCHL final.

In Cobourg, Ont. for the RBC Cup, the Vees fell just short, losing to the host team — the Ontario Junior Hockey League's Cobourg Cougars — in the semifinal. The Cougars went on to win the national title game in overtime. 

"It's always that balance, trying to build that team that can win a seven-game series, then you have to have that team that can win in a tournament style," Harbinson said. "You have to give Cobourg credit for getting hot at the right time."

While the season was largely a story-book one for the team, it was a year of accomplishments for alumni. 

Former Vees captain Tyson Jost was signed in March by the Colorado Avalanche, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 2016. His pro deal came exactly a year after he last suited up for Penticton.

Five days later, on Mar. 31, Jost made his NHL debut. He scored his first career NHL goal in his fourth game, on Apr. 6.

"Real exciting for Tyson, for the organization, for everybody involved, the family... It's pretty special," Harbinson said.

Four months prior to Jost's pro debut, he and another former Vee, Dante Fabbro, represented Team Canada at the World Juniors — the biggest international stage for junior-aged players.

"They both played pretty big roles on that team... Obviously gold is what they wanted, but to lose in the shootout of the championship game is something I'm sure they'll never forget," Harbinson said.

Fabbro is once again at the tournament playing for Canada as an assistant captain on this year's squad.

On the international stage, Vees Jonny Tychonick and Ryan O'Connell brought home gold from the World Junior A Challenge in Truro, Nova Scotia earlier this month, having represented Team Canada West.

As for this season's Vees, the results have been impressive in the 2017 portion of their schedule.

Penticton was undefeated for nine games to begin the season, and later had a 12-game win streak which was snapped earlier this month.

The team has dealt with decimating injuries; the team confirmed that co-captain Grant Cruikshank is likely done for the season after breaking his ankle. Chris Klack and Cassidy Bowes are both sitting out with long-term injuries, as is O'Connell who broke his arm at the WJAC. 

"For our standards, everybody expects us to win every night, and we don't want to make any excuses. Everybody has injuries nowadays but its been a funny year," Harbinson said.

"Not one week type stuff, its all been six-to-eight week type deals. And losing Cruikshank for the year has obviously been tough to fill.

"But we're going to keep fighting hard here as a staff and as a team, and I think at the end of the year we're going to be a team people aren't going to want to play against."

The Vees will begin the second half of the season with a 22-7-2-2 record in 33 games, good for third in the league.

The Wenatchee Wild are one point ahead of the Vees and have played two more games, while the Vernon Vipers are seven points up on Penticton with four more games played.

Penticton's second half begins with games in Wenatchee on back-to-back nights on Dec. 29 and 30.

"One of the fastest teams in the league, one of the toughest buildings to play in. It'll be a great test," Harbinson said.

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