Former Smokies play for championship

The BCHL’s Penticton Vees and Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Brooks Bandits face off Friday, April 20 for the Doyle Cup championship

The BCHL’s Penticton Vees and Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Brooks Bandits face off today, for the Doyle Cup championship, and on the ice will be no fewer than four former Smokies.

Trail native Travis St. Denis will line up for the Vees, while Tanner Hicks, Ryan Luiten and Matt Wilkens are the former Smokies trio on a Bandits team that’s making its first appearance in the Doyle Cup since joining the AJHL in 1999.

Hicks, a Calgary native, was picked up in a five-player trade with the Alberni Bulldogs in October only to be traded before the January deadline to Brooks in a three-way deal that sent 17-year-old Riley McDougall from the Calgary Canucks to the Smokies.

Luiten, from Anchorage, Alaska, played in 48 games for the Smoke Eaters in the 2010-11 season before heading to Brooks where he finished third in scoring in 2011-12. Meanwhile, Wilkins, from Kimberley, was arguably the Bandits’ best player, leading the team in scoring with 34 goals and 65 assists in 60 games. Wilkins was traded in June 2010 in a five-player deal that saw Steve Dobbin and standout Cullen Bradshaw come to Trail.

After three campaigns as a Smokie, St. Denis had a great year for the Vees finishing fifth in league scoring with 37-52-89. The Vees led the BCHL this season but last played in the Doyle Cup in 2008.

Both clubs led their leagues in goals-for in the regular season.

“They’re known as a high-scoring team,” said Brooks Bulletin sports reporter Bruce Parker of the Bandits. “They have the league scoring leader (Wilkins, 99 points); they can put the puck in the net.”

The same would be said of the Vees. The difference may be that Penticton has shown a lockdown defensive ability as well. While they haven’t scored at the same rate in the playoffs as they did in the regular season, they’ve actually improved in goals-against going from a 2.22 average in the regular season to a 1.80 number in the playoffs.

“I get the sense that the teams are very similar,” said Penticton Western news sports reporter Emanuel Sequeira. “It’s like trying to figure out how to beat yourself. I talked to (players) this morning and I get the sense that they’re very excited for this series.”

This has been the best season the Bandits have put together in club history but, like the Vees, the Doyle Cup is just part of the equation.

“The coaches and players have their eyes on the RBC Cup,” said Parker. “They’re looking at the big picture as opposed to a piece of the picture.”

The first game goes tonight in Brooks.

WHL notes: Trail native Joey Baker and the Portland Winterhawks defeated the Kamloops Blazers 2-0 Wednesday to win the best of 7 series 4-3.

The Winterhawks will play the Tri-City Americans in the final. The Americans outlasted the Spokane Chiefs, beating them in Game 7, 3-2.

With files from the BCHL