Jonathan Desbiens (middle) and the West Kelowna Warriors will host Dominic Hannoun (right) and the Penticton Vees this weekend at Royal LePage Place in Games 3 and 4 of the first round BCHL playoff series.

Okanagan rivals all even in first round tilt

After two overtime games in Penticton, BCHL Interior series between Warriors and Vees comes to West Kelowna for Games 3 and 4

Last Saturday night, the West Kelowna Warriors had doubts as to whether they’d even be in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

Less than a week later, Rylan Ferster’s club is in the thick of an Interior Division first-round battle with the first-place Penticton Vees.

After splitting the first two games this week in Penticton, the Okanagan rivals shift to Royal LePage Place Friday and Saturday for Games 3 and 4 in the best-of-seven matchup.

West Kelowna needed double overtime to grab the series opener 4-3 on Tuesday night in Penticton, before the Vees answered back with a 3-2 overtime verdict on Wednesday.

Scott Patton was solid in goal on both nights for the Warriors, stopping a combined 95 shots.

Warriors head coach and GM Rylan Ferster said there hasn’t been much to choose between the two teams so far and looks for much the same this weekend.

“We’re playing a very good team and we’re playing well, too, so I’d say being tied up 1-1 is pretty indicative of the series,” said Ferster. “This weekend is probably going to be similar to what we’ve seen the first two games. They’re a really good offensive team so we want to try and limit their zone time, and not get into a run-and-gun situation with them.

“It’s a best-of-five now,” he added.

The Vees won five of seven meetings during the regular season and finished 27 points ahead of the Warriors in the standings. But, as they say, playoffs is a whole new season.

West Kelowna captain Andrew Johnson expects the series to simply come down to which team wants it most.

“I don’t think we can out-skill them, so outworking them would be the key to our success,” Johnson said. “This time of year, it’s all about who wants it more.

“The hockey is fast and competitive and I wouldn’t expect anything different this weekend.”

Johnson and the Warriors went 5-0-0-1 in their last six games to sneak into the playoffs, one point ahead of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks who had the inside track but lost their last two games.

Based on the way their regular season ended, Johnson said the Warriors have been in a playoff mindset for a while now.

“It was a real testament to the character of the guys in the room that we were able to get in,” he said. “Now we want to take advantage of the opportunity we’re getting.”

Face off for Games 3 and 4 between the Warriors and Vees Friday and Saturday at Royal LePage is 7 p.m.

Game 5 goes Monday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre, with a sixth game, if needed, Tuesday, March 10 in West Kelowna.