A little validation is good for the soul. Just ask Trail native Travis St. Denis, whose Penticton Vees are off to the RBC Cup today to vie for the Junior A hockey national title.
After making a tough decision to leave the Trail Smoke Eaters, St. Denis proved a vital piece of the Penticton puzzle as the Vees put together a magical season.
The Vees set a record for most consecutive wins, 42, and finished first overall in the BCHL losing only four games. They won the BCHL playoffs and the Doyle Cup, and now enter the RBC championship ranked first in the nation.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” said St. Denis. “I think leaving my hometown and coming to Penticton, I didn’t know what to expect really, but I had incredible billets and unreal coaches and unreal guys on my team, so it was definitely an easy transfer to Penticton from Trail.”
The 19-year-old forward put in three strong seasons as a Smoke Eater, but requested a trade at the end of last year.
He ended up in Penticton after a three-way deal with Cowichan Valley sent him to the Vees.
Playing with NHL draft picks Mario Lucia and Mike Reilly didn’t hurt either, as St. Denis turned in his best junior campaign yet, leading the scoring race early on, and finishing up in fifth with 89 points. The Vees depth through the lineup was unfathomable, with nine Penticton players placing in the top 15 scorers in the BCHL.
“Ever since training camp we knew we had something special going on, so we just kept getting stronger and stronger throughout the year. It was definitely really exciting to be a part of,” said St. Denis.
After dispatching the Powell River Kings for the BCHL title in four close matches, Penticton beat the Brooks Bandits in five games to win the Alberta/B.C. championship Doyle Cup.
The team now heads to the RBC Cup in Humboldt, Sask. set to play the Soo Thunderbirds (Central Region) in the opening game of the tournament Saturday.
Although, the Vees are odds-on-favourite to win, any added pressure won’t be an issue, says St. Denis.
“You try not to think about that at all, but at the same time, we’re ranked number one so we have to play like we’re the number-one team in Canada – we should be good if we can do that.”
The Humboldt Broncos (host team), Portage Terriers (West Region), and Woodstock Slammers (East Region) round out the five-team tournament and will play a round-robin to eliminate one team while the four remaining clubs face off in the semifinals on May 12. The championship final is May 13 and will be televised on TSN.