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Clippers, Vees set to meet in BCHL Fred Page Cup final

The Penticton Vees are considered the model B.C. Hockey League franchise, the one which other teams measure themselves against. The Nanaimo Clippers, however, have been matching the Vees win for win through the playoffs at 12-0.

The Penticton Vees are considered the model B.C. Hockey League franchise, the one which other teams measure themselves against. The Nanaimo Clippers, however, have been matching the Vees win for win through the playoffs at 12-0. The Vees have also won 12 consecutive ­post-season games but are not spotless after having dropped their first playoff game to the Trail Smoke Eaters.

“I have been coaching in junior hockey for 11 years and have not seen anything like this —12 playoff games times 60 minutes and overtime and unbeaten,” said Clippers coach Colin Birkas.

“Credit has to go all-around to the whole group. Even ­players with marginal roles have stepped up to have huge shifts.”

The best-of-seven 2022 BCHL final between the ­Clippers and Vees begins tonight and ­Saturday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre before swinging to the Island for the third and fourth games Tuesday and Wednesday at Frank Crane Arena in the Harbour City.

The clubs have split their six previous meetings in the Fred Page Cup league final, including three consecutive victories by Nanaimo in the mid-1970s with future Victoria Cougar WHLers and eventual NHLers Barry Pederson, Greg Adams, ­Torrie Robertson and Gary Lupul. ­Penticton bested the Clippers in the 1980, 2008 and 2015 BCHL finals.

The latter was highlighted as the current Vees received a message of encouragement from one of the club’s alumni in the NHL, with Tyler Jost of the Minnesota Wild posting a video message via Twitter: “Wishing you all the best in the series against Nanaimo. I remember my first year in Penticton, we played Nanaimo in the [2015] final and ended up winning the championship against them in Game 6. It was truly incredible and such an amazing series and such an amazing year with so many friendships and memories I still cherish to this day from that year and that series. I can’t tell you how great it felt to win that championship and hoist that trophy. Enjoy the ride, play for each other, play as a team and have no regrets when the series is over. Leave everything you have on the ice.”

The Vees might just be aching to burst out of the dressing room door after hearing that. But the Clippers vow to be ready against a Penticton team that won the BCHL regular-season title at 43-8-3 and which has ­defencemen Ryan Hopkins and Joshua Niedermayer, who have both appeared on ranking lists for the 2022 NHL draft.

The Clippers were third in the Coastal Conference at 33-17-4 before dispatching the Surrey Eagles, Chilliwack Chiefs and Langley Rivermen in straight games in the post-season.

“We know we are starting off in enemy territory against the team that is favoured every time it hits the ice,” said Birkas.

“But hockey has a way of levelling things out. The Vees have the star power but we have been patient throughout the playoffs, even when the bullets are flying. We play 10 minutes at a time, to the officials break and then to the end of the period, and revaluate at those points.”

Nobody wins 12 ­consecutive playoff games without ­exceptional goaltending and the Clippers have received that in aces with Cooper Black, a massive presence in the crease at six-foot-eight and 217 pounds. The 20-year-old native of Alpena, Michigan, headed next season to the Ivy League in NCAA Div. 1 at Dartmouth, has a playoff-best .953 save percentage, co-leading 1.54 goals-against average and had three consecutive shutouts in a stretch of 11 periods without allowing a goal.

“We are so proud of Cooper Black but he would be the first to tell you that it’s been a group effort,” said Birkas.

The Vees’ goaltending has also been stellar with NCAA Div. 1 Northern Michigan-bound Kaeden Lane tied with Black with a playoff goals-against average of 1.54.

The Penticton post-season offence has been led by NCAA Div. 1 University of Maine Black Bears-bound brothers Josh and Bradley Nadeau with 19 and 18 points, respectively. Luc Wilson, committed to Minnesota State, also has 19 points. The seamless Sean Donaldson, bound in the NCAA for the Cornell Big Red, leads Nanaimo with 19 points and has a post-season high 12 goals.

Penticton is in the BCHL final for the 22nd time and Nanaimo for the ninth time. Penticton has won recent BCHL championships in 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2017 and is after its 13th Fred Page Cup championship overall since 1961. Nanaimo has won five BCHL championships, the last in 2007.

ICE CHIPS: With the ­tourist season rebounding strongly in Penticton, all hotel rooms in town are booked this weekend, forcing the Clippers to stay in Oliver.