Sports

Vees roster taking shape after strong camp

PLAYERS IMPRESSED at the Penticton Vees spring camp last weekend, in which the Vees announced commitments with eight players for next season. - Joe Fries/Western News
PLAYERS IMPRESSED at the Penticton Vees spring camp last weekend, in which the Vees announced commitments with eight players for next season.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News

The Penticton Vees’ 2014-15 BCHL roster has filled up a bit more following a strong spring camp.

Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said their camp, held May 22-25 in the OHA Training Centre, went extremely well.

“The kids that we have been tracking for some time gave us even more confidence with why we have been tracking them and had great camps,” said Harbinson. “I think this group, the commitments we get out of this camp to go along with our returning players, we’re going to have a really strong hockey club.”

While there might have been some surprises, Harbinson praised the local products as there were several who did extremely well.

“Greg Brydon, a young kid that is playing with the Okanagan Hockey Academy ... I thought had an outstanding camp,” he said. “Raphael Bassot had a great camp.”

The Vees liked what they saw from the younger players who will get opportunities as affiliates. Harbinson said times have changed and what they will be doing following their spring camp is combining the prep and main camp to start working with their roster. Young players will attend the main camp to try and secure spots as affiliates or for the following season. It’s a change from what the Vees usually do, but Harbinson said other teams are giving out commitments. They will have 22 players ready, including their returning group.

“There is a difference between making a team and playing on a team,” said Harbinson. “That in itself will put a lot of competition (in camp). If players show up not ready to go, then things change.”

On Tuesday morning the Vees announced eight players from spring camp who will join their list of 10 returnees. Among them are Miles Gendron, Gabe Bast, Mike Lee and Connor Russell on defence. Josh Laframboise, Lewis Zerter and Neil Robinson join the forward group. In goal, Hunter Miska’s new net minding partner is Brendan Barry.  Gendron played last season in Massachusetts for Rivers School and skates effortlessly with his 6-2, 81 kilogram frame and has high-end skill. His potential piqued the interest of several junior teams as he’s ranked 74th by NHL Central Scouting for the 2014 NHL draft.  Gendron was named the Independent School League’s 2013-14 MVP, won the league Sportmanship award and was named a league all-star.

He was also the recipient of the prestigious John Carlton Award, given annually by the Boston Bruins to the best senior boy’s hockey player in Eastern Massachusetts.

“One of our staff’s recruiting goals this off-season was to add more skill to our blueline,” said Harbinson in a team statement. “In Miles, we have attracted a very high-end defenceman that I believe Penticton fans will liken to some of the skilled blue-liners that have played here in the recent past.”

Gendron will join the University of Connecticut Huskies in 2015-16.

Laframboise impressed the Vees’ brass during the spring camp showing off his speed, tenacity and goal scoring abilities.  The Vees believe the Regina product will continue the tradition of strong play from Saskatchewan-raised players, most recently Hilderman, Sean Flanagan and Bryce Gervais.  Last season Laframboise, 6-0, 81-kg, starred for the Battleford Stars of Saskatchewan Major Midget League and collected 61 points in 41 regular season games, including 33 goals. Laframboise picked up his game in the playoffs with nine goals and 20 points in 10 games. He was also named the Stars’ MVP as well as for the league. He is committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“We believe that Josh possesses many of the traits we have been seeking in forwards: he competes hard, skates fast, drives the net fearlessly and he has an obvious knack for goal scoring. Combined with his really solid character, we believe Penticton hockey fans will come to really enjoy Josh play.”

In Barry, the Vees get a goalie who backstopped the Okangan Rockets major midget team to a bronze medal in the Telus Cup national championship. Barry, a graduate of the Okanagan Hockey Academy, finished the regular season with a 15-1-2 record. He started every playoff game and had an 8-2 record with a 3.20 goal against average. At the Telus Cup, Barry registered a 1-1-3 record.

“Over the years, we have had a chance to watch Brendan develop and believe that he has worked hard to achieve his recent success and know he will continue to do so in a Vees’ jersey,” said Harbinson. “Brendan has demonstrated a clear ability to perform and win in high-pressure situations.  It is these characteristics that solidified our desire to have him be a part of goaltending tandem, along with returnee Hunter Miska.”

Lee is a 6-0, 77-kg rearguard from the Gunnery school and helped lead his team to a championship before losing in overtime to Salisbury in the New England final. The Vees love Lee's vision, calm demeanor with the puck and smooth skating style. Lee also has very good offensive instincts and is expected to be a strong two-way defenceman. He is committed to the University of Vermont Catamount and is rated 156th in the final NHL Central Scouting draft ratings for the 2014 NHL draft.

Russell is a 6-2, 86-kg defenceman from Northwood Prep School in Lake Placid, NY. Russell caught the Vees attention while they were evaluating a top forward prospect that he was playing against. Russell challenged that forward every time he stepped on the ice by his hard playing. Russell practiced with the Vees for a week during the regular season and again impressed in camp.

"Many junior teams recruited Mike and we are very excited he chose to be a Vee. Connor flew somewhat under the radar, but we believe he has the potential to be an excellent shut-down defenceman. A key recruiting objective was to build a better puck moving D-corps and we believe we have clearly done so."

Up front Zerter and Robinson of Montreal are considered dynamic forwards from the U.S. Prep School program expected to help fill the net. The 6-1, 86-kg Zerter played at Kent School last season and helped the team win the Founders League. Committed to Harvard University in 2015-16, he is more of a playmaker than a shooter and has a very high creativity level with excellent puck skills and intelligence.

The 5-11, 83-kg Robinson helped the Salisbury School win the New England Prep School Championship. Robinson has good speed and edges while being hard on the puck and has a history of producing offensively at every level, 26 games, 19 goals and 14 assists last season. Robinson hasn't picked a college yet, but is on the radar of Division 1 colleges.

The Vees said they expanded their recruiting to U.S. prep schools and were impresssed with the quality of play and talent.

"Lewis and Neil were two players that we targeted due to their skill levels and intelligence," said Harbinson. "We know our fans love talent and speed, which both these players possess. It’s May, but I’m very excited to start the upcoming season.”

Once next season starts, there will already be one less familiar face on defence. Harbinson said they spoke with Alexandre Coulombe and discussed moving him closer to home in Granby, Que. as he wasn't going to be part of their future. Coulombe has de-committed from the University of Vermont and is joining the 2012 Memorial Cup champion Shawinigan Cataractes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

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