Is it Vees or V’s? When Pentictonites think of their junior hockey team in the present, it’s the Vees. However, when they think of the great legacy of hockey in Penticton it’s the V’s.
Through the past 55 years, the players who have donned the various Penticton hockey jerseys have been as unique as the name itself – which came from a housewife who thought the team’s name should be symbolic of the city and what it is most known for: peaches, from the Vedette, Valiant and Veteran came the simple V, which has brought so much pride to the city.
It didn’t take long for the V’s to find success after joining the Okanagan Senior Hockey League in 1951. An Allan Cup title came in ’54 followed by a world championship in ’55, with a decisive 5-0 shutout against the Soviet Union in Krefeld, West Germany.
“The Russian coach was quoted the next day saying that ‘you tell those Canadians that our team will never be shutout again,’” V’s goalie Ivan McLelland told the Penticton Western News in 2007. “And it took 50 years before Justin Pogge (another Pentictonite) did it. It was just a national disgrace for them, like it would have been for us.
“When we kicked their collective rear ends, that was the start of the rivalry between Canada and Russia.”
The league and team folded six years later, but was replaced by the Junior Vees, and later the Broncos in 1964.
Youngsters such as Bob Nicholson, now president/CEO of Hockey Canada, former NHLer Bruce Affleck and current Vees radio analyst Chad Campbell brought the city its first provincial Midget championship in 1969-70.
In the 1970-71 season, six players from that team graduated to the Junior A Broncos and became B.C.’s Centennial Cup representatives.
In their third year they went to the Western Canadian finals and played Portage la Prairie, losing in seven games. That playoff run included 32 games in 36 nights, part of which was a Game 7 upset over Kamloops.
“Nobody gave us a ghost of a chance,” said Campbell, who remains friends with the players he won with. “It
was deafening to hear the noise in the dressing room below the stands.”
One of those friends is Kamloops native Ed Dempsey.
“It was just a great place to play,” said Dempsey, now the coach of the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings. “My first memories of junior hockey in Penticton were of Jackie Taggart Jr., who at his time was probably the Bobby Orr of the west.”
Winning continued into the ‘80s with Larry Lund, founder of the Okanagan Hockey School, as an owner of the Penticton Knights, working with coach Rick Kozuback and Nick Iannone. In 1984-85, the Knights lost the Centennial Cup final, but the next season they would be champions. Summerland’s John DePourcq was the only local player on that team and said the coaches were ahead of their time.
“Our practices were twice as hard as games,” said DePourcq. “When it came to games, we just killed people. Any style they wanted to play, we could play in. It was fun hockey.”
The Knights played for sold out crowds and lost just five games. When they lost, brawls broke out.
“Coming into our barn you knew you were in for a game,” said DePourcq.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when Junior A hockey returned to the city in 2005 after the Penticton Panthers folded, the team once again took the name Vees.
Scott Carter, part of the Vees’ ownership group, approached McLelland about bringing back the club’s moniker.
“Scott gave us the respect, saying we would like to use the Vees name again,” explained McLelland. “First of all they didn’t need to do that. Out of courtesy they did. I thought that was very positive and look at what’s happened today. The name V goes out on a Bantam sweater.”
The boy who was just nine years old when the V’s were named world champions has spent the past 43 years in the press box watching the tradition.
“They had some good players in those times too,” said current Vees colour commentator Al Formo. “Penticton started developing players for the next level. There has always been a lot of pride in coming to Penticton to play.”