May 14, 2017
By Fraser Rodgers
The Penticton Vees finally open their RBC Cup schedule this afternoon when they face the Brooks Bandits (12:30 pm PT / 3:30 pm ET) in a battle of the two western representatives.
The Vees are the only team out of the five who have yet to play, as Brooks opened their tournament with a 6-3 win over the Terrebonne Cobras (East) on Saturday afternoon.
The Cobourg Cougars (Host) edged the Trenton Golden Hawks (Central) 3-2 in overtime in the other game Saturday on Day 1 of the 2017 RBC Cup.
The Vees are coming off that hard-fought, emotional 3-2 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs one week ago to clinch the second qualifying spot for the RBC Cup. The extra day off here in Cobourg, Ontario, may have done them some good, as they’ve played 27 playoff games in the last 49 days.
Penticton comes into the tournament on a roll, as they’ve won their last three, all elimination games, dating back to May 4th.
That win streak isn’t as impressive as Brooks however, as the Bandits have won 13 straight if you include the Western Canada Cup and the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) playoffs.
The Bandits last loss came in Game 2 of the AJHL South Division Final against Okotoks, that back on April 1st; 43 days ago.
The Vees and Bandits have some recent history, as it was Brooks prevailing, in a shootout, 4-3 in the Western Canada Cup round-robin back on April 30th. The Vees actually had two separate two-goal leads in that game, going up 2-0 and 3-1, before the Bandits had a late third period rally to force extra time. Despite their recent encounter, this is the first ever meeting between the two teams at the RBC Cup.
In their tournament opener Saturday afternoon, the Bandits were involved in a wild first period, which saw them score five times but the two teams also scored two apiece inside the first nine and a half minutes of the game.
After a seven goal first period, the two teams combined for just two goals over the last 40-minutes, as they traded third period goals.
This is the Vees second RBC Cup appearance in the last three years and third since 2012. Today will mark their first game back at the national championship since an overtime loss to the Carleton Place Canadians in the Semi-Finals at the 2015 RBC Cup in Portage, Manitoba.
There’s one player on the Vees roster that remembers the painful loss.
Gabe Bast is the only player on the Vees roster that remains from the team that went to the 2015 RBC Cup. The now 20-year-old defenceman has had a terrific playoff run, piling up 17 points in 21 BCHL playoff games, and added another four in six games at the WCC. 21 points in 27 playoff games, not bad for a defenceman who had played just 23 regular season games in the last two seasons.
Another veteran who will bring experience to the big stage is Duncan Campbell. A year ago, Campbell was playing for his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings at the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alberta.
Brooks also has an impact defenceman on their side.
Cale Makar, who’s projected as a top 10 pick in the upcoming NHL draft in June, has had a dynamite season. The 18-year-old had 16 points in 13 playoff games en route to being named the AJHL Playoff MVP.
He was also named the Western Canada Cup Top Defensemen and named to the All-Tournament team, after picking up three goals and eight points in five games. Makar also scored in the Bandits tournament opening win Saturday.
The Vees will have to be cognizant of where number eight is at all times. It’s not just Makar that’s dangerous for Brooks, as they have an arsenal of offensive weapons.
The Bandits occupied eight of the top 10 spots in the AJHL playoff scoring race, including Josh McKechney leading the league in playoff scoring with 23 points in 13 games. At the WCC, it was Parker Foo leading the tournament in scoring through the round-robin with seven points. Conner Jean and Oliver Chau are two other forwards the Vees have to keep tabs on and both scored in the Bandits’ win yesterday. Don’t forget about Captain Nick Prkusic who had a pair of goals in Saturday’s opener as well.
The Vees boast some firepower too, as Captain Nicholas Jones was named the WCC Top Forward and had a tournament-best 11 points. If you combined that with his BCHL playoff totals, Jones has 38 points in 27 playoff games.
Outside of Jones, there’s no hotter forward than Grant Cruikshank, who scored four goals and pumped out six points in the final three games of the WCC.
Today should also feature a terrific match up in goal, as the Vees’ Mat Robson goes head-to-head with Brooks’ Mitch Benson. Robson posted a 1.98 goals-against average, to go along with a .915 save percentage and one shutout at the WCC.
Benson was 5-0, owning a 1.41 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage; he too had a shutout. Benson was named the WCC Top Goaltender and MVP.
There is also viewing parties at Tugs Tap House on Martin Street, and the Barking Parrot down at the Lakeside Hotel. Phone ahead to both places to book yourself a table to watch the game.