VICTORIA 4 (SO)
The defending champion Penticton Vees, the gold standard in the B.C. Hockey League, rolled into The Q Centre on Saturday night, but hit a pothole. The Victoria Grizzlies (18-13-6) recorded their biggest victory of the season with an upset 4-3 shootout decision over the Vees (35-3-1).
Goaltender Oliver Auyeung-Ashton was the hero of the piece for the Grizzlies as the Vees unloaded 41 shots in regulation and overtime.
“We know their record and [knew] the game would be a challenge,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Rylan Ferster.
Ahead of the 2022 BCHL final last spring against the Nanaimo Clippers, the Vees received a video message of encouragement on Twitter from Tyler Jost of the Buffalo Sabres.
You get those sorts of endorsements when you boast 55 players produced for the NHL from the current Jost, Dante Fabbro of Nashville and Troy Stecher of Detroit to past stars such as Brett Hull, Paul Kariya, Duncan Keith and Ray Ferraro. Many major-junior teams can’t match that.
Penticton has been to the BCHL final 22 times since 1961 and has won 13 Fred Page Cup league championships, including the four-game sweep of Nanaimo last year.
“I have nothing but respect for Penticton and what it has accomplished. They do everything well from top to bottom,” said Ferster.
This was the Grizzlies’ lone game against the Vees this season, but Ferster got more of a first-hand look as head coach of the West Kelowna Warriors for four seasons: “We were a half-hour up the road and Penticton’s closest opponent.”
Ferster guided the Warriors to the 2015-16 BCHL championship, but is any team capable of wresting the 2022-23 title away from the Vees? It doesn’t appear like it, Saturday’s result at The Q Cetnre notwithstanding, and with the Coastal Division-leading Clippers (29-7-1) surely wanting another shot in the finals against Penticton and on path to getting it.
The Penticton offence is led by NCAA Division 1 University of Maine Black Bears-bound brothers Bradley and Josh Nadeau, the runaway 1-2 points-scoring leaders in the BCHL. Bradley Nadeau is the No. 19-ranked North American skater for the 2023 NHL draft and will be a first-rounder or early second-rounder. The Vees also boast Aydar Suniev, third in BCHL points, and the No. 35-ranked North American skater for the 2023 NHL draft and a projected second-rounder.
Also starring on the Penticton squad are the sons of two former NHL stars and Hockey Hall of Fame members. Jackson Nieuwendyk is the son of Joe Nieuwendyk and blueliner Joshua Niedermayer the son of Scott Niedermayer.
A league-leading 17 Vees have NCAA Division 1 commitments, including the Nadeau brothers with Maine, Suniev with UMass, Niedermayer to Arizona State, Nieuwendyk to Canisius, Nicholas Degraves to Penn State, Beanie Richter to Yale, Owen Simpson to UConn, Billy Norcross to Northeastern, goaltender Luca Pasquo to Michigan State, and 2023 NHL-draft ranked defenceman Ryan Hopkins to Maine.
Owen Bohn and Noah Leibl put Victoria ahead 2-0 in the first period Saturday before Richter and Brett Moravec tied it for the Vees in the second period.
Anthony Carone of the Grizzlies, on the power play, and Nieuwendyk traded goals in the third period.
Bohn’s shot won it for Victoria in the shootout.