The 2017-18 version of the Penticton Vees should possess more offense and skill.
That’s what Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson, the architect of the group, feels. Returning players include co-captains Owen Sillinger and Grant Cruikshank, joined by Chris Klack, Taylor Ward, Turner Ripplinger and Jared Nash, along with defenceman Jonny Tychonick, Joey Leahy, Greg Brydon and Kenny Johnson and in goal is Nolan Hildebrand. They are joined by new recruits; goalie Adam Scheel, defenceman Nicky Leivermann, Garrett Ewert, Ryan O’Connell and Luke Reid. Up front are Cassidy Bowes, who saw playoff action as an affiliate player, Jack Barnes, Cam Hillis, Ryan Sandelin and Lukas Sillinger, brother of Owen. The Vees will know in two weeks whether they will have Massimo Rizzo.
“We’re definitely deeper (upfront) as far as the skill goes,” said Harbinson. “I thought Ward had an outstanding playoffs. Cruikshank had 32 goals as a rookie. You can only imagine how he is going to take off this year. Jared Nash had a great playoffs.”
Harbinson liked the way Hildebrand performed in practice during the playoffs and believes he will take another step. With Cruikshank, Harbinson said the Wisconsin Badger-commit decided to return to become a more consistent player. After struggling in the opening round of the playoffs, Cruikshank was outstanding the Vees coach said and believes the players could top 40 goals.
Among the returning defenceman, Harbinson said Johnson created space for teammates playing a physical game and shows flashes of offence. He hopes the brother of NHL defenceman Jack Johnson can take another step. Leahy had a solid rookie season and could have an even stronger year as a 20-year-old. The key player to Harbinson is Tychonick. While playing a limited role near the end, Harbinson felt the Calgary native was just as good as other 16-year-olds they have had in the past.
“I think as a 17 year old he is going to be a big piece of what we’re doing,” said Harbinson. “He can skate, he is going to increase his strength. Things to work on had to do with strength. That comes with time.”
Harbinson believes they are ahead of where they were this time last year.
“This group has it right in their blood that they know what it takes to win in the playoffs,” he said.
Vees notes: The Alberta Junior Hockey League champs announced on Twitter that they will host the B.C. Hockey League champs on Labour Day weekend for a pair of exhibition games on Sept. 1 and 2. This will be the second pre-season series between the teams. The Bandits came to Penticton in September of 2015. It will be the first time that the Vees will travel to Brooks since the 2012 Doyle Cup.