Puck drop for the Penticton Vees’ playoff season is officially here.
After 18 days without a game, the Vees host the Merritt Centennials, who swept the West Kelowna Warriors in the opening round of the BCHL playoffs, Friday at the South Okanagan Events Centre at 7 p.m.
The Vees won six of seven regular season games against the Centennials. Their lone loss was on Jan. 13, 3-2 in Merritt.
“We’ve had success against a lot of teams. I think it’s just indicative of our play throughout the regular season,” said Vees captain Nicholas Jones, who collected four assists against the Centennials this season. “We have a lot of confidence whoever we are going to play. Merritt’s a great team.”
A three-week break has allowed the Vees to get healthy. Head coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said Taylor Sanheim has been cleared for contact.
“We have executed well in practice and flying on all cylinders,” said Harbinson.
Jones said the break was good for them, but now they are into game week and excited to get going.
Among the players who enjoyed success against the Centennials were Grant Cruikshank, Joseph Leahy and Chris Klack, who all put up six points. Cruikshank’s three goals were second to Ty Amonte’s four.
Tyler Ward leads the Centennials with seven goals and 10 points in the playoffs, while Brett Jewell and Michael Regush each put up six points. Their goalie Jacob Berger earned the four wins behind a .918 save percentage and 2.95 goals against average.
Jones said the Centennials have a skilled team.
“They are going to have a lot of energy. They are going to be maybe a little high on themselves,” said Jones. “They deserve to be feeling good. Having that experience in the playoffs that we don’t have yet, they are going to be coming. They are already going to be in playoff mode.”
Jared Nash, who had two goals and three points against the Centennials, said they expect the visitors to bring pace.
“I think the main thing with them is we got to push the pace,” said Nash. “We know here on Friday they are going to come out pretty hard. We got to be ready to match them.”
The Vees and Centennials have met in the post season in 2012 and 2014. In 2014, the Vees swept the opening-round series. In 2012, the Vees won the Interior Division Final in five games. After getting a taste of playoff hockey last season, Jones loves everything about the playoffs.
“The intensity is there. Our fans are great,” he said. “Going into their building (Nicola Valley Memorial Arena) is going to be a real taste of playoff action. Especially the small rink. How much intensity there will be in the series. You don’t have much time. Every shot is a good shot there. There is a lot more opportunities to be physical. Those are the three things that are playoff hockey in a nutshell. To have it more amplified in a smaller rink makes it a lot more difficult to play.”