By winning seven of their first 12 games, the Vancouver Victory have demonstrated their potential to rivals in the Northern Pacific Hockey League.
Now the junior hockey team that calls Mountain View Ice Arena home is ready to put on a show for its fans.
“We’re a lot better than last year,” said Joe Bordak, who has three brothers on the team and who was a member of the River City Jaguars team that called Vancouver home last season. “This team has a lot of depth. We have more skill on the front end, strong defensemen and two good goalies.”
The Victory have played four of their first 12 games at home, but the 7 p.m. Saturday game against the Yellowstone Quake of Cody Wyo., is billed as grand opening night.
Under new ownership and with a new name, the club handed out free tickets for this game and is expecting between 750 and 1,000 fans to show up.
Defenseman Erik Mathies, a Vancouver native who has been in the league for several years, said the players will appreciate the support. But a large crowd will not impact his approach to the game.
“Honestly, all you’re going to worry about when you go out there is the hockey game,” the 20-year-old Mathies said. “It’s always good to have fan support behind you when you get a big hit or you score a goal. But we’re still going to be worrying about the other team on the ice more than anything else.”
There should be plenty of entertainment off the ice, too.
“It will be a huge production,” said Clay Bonds, the vice president and chief of operations for the team.
Bonds has a similar role with the Vancouver Volcanoes basketball team, and said Victory home games will follow the game plan used for the International Basketball League team’s home games by focusing on entertainment for families.
Free tickets, sponsor giveaways and prize raffles might bring in a crowd on Saturday, but the success of the team on the ice will likely determine how many of those fans return to buy tickets.
With a mix of young talent and veterans who have spent years in the league for players ages 15-20, the Victory have shown flashes of terrific play during a challenging early season schedule that included a road trip to Montana.
“We’ve got a lot of talent. It’s more about effort, really,” first-year head coach John Nogatch said. “They’ve got to understand that you’ve got to come play hard for 60 minutes. You can’t take periods off and expect to win games in this league. They’ve done a pretty good job of that so far, but every once in a while they go back to the old habits.”
The signature win of the early season came on Oct. 28 at Seattle, when Vancouver rallied from a 6-1 deficit to beat the defending league champions 7-6 in overtime.
“That was obviously a good win for us in Seattle. But we never should have been in that position,” Nogatch said. “We’ve got to come out and play like we do in the third periods for ther whole game.”
On the positive side, that comeback win is something the coaching staff can refer back to throughout the season.
“It shows that we can play at a high level when everyone is giving 100 percent,” the coach said. “That’s a good thing to see, obviously.”
The three-game series with Yellowstone — there are games at 1 p.m. on Sunday and 7 p.m. on Monday, too — will feature the two top scorers in the league.
Quake center Matthew Schultz leads the NORPAC with 31 points (20 goals and 11 assists) through 13 games.
Victory forward Avik Bordak has 16 goals and 14 assists for 30 points through 12 games. Joe Bordak (10 goals, 15 assists) is tied for sixth in scoring with 25 points.
In addition to giving away bundles of free tickets to the Saturday game, there is a lengthy list of promotions planned. Among them, Bonds said, are giveaways from Big Al’s bowling, L.A. Fitness, Krispy Kreme, and Sport Clips, along with raffles for prizes donated by Comfort Suites and Perk Savvy coupons.
Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt is scheduled to take part in a ceremonial puck drop.
Activities will include face painting for kids, and a postgame autograph session with Victory players that will be a home game tradition, according to Bonds.
IF YOU GO
Junior hockey: Vancouver vs. Yellowstone of Cody, Wyo.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, grand opening home game. Also games at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday.
Where: Mountain View Ice Arena, 14313 S.E. Miill Plain.
Tickets: A large number of free tickets were handed out for Saturday’s game, billed as the team’s grand opening. Ticket prices are $9, $6 forf students 7-18 and seniors 62 and older. Kids 6 and younger get in for free.