Michigan hockey product Ryan Sandelin will be back for his second season with the Penticton Vees. Mark Brett/Western News

Leaner, meaner hockey machine – Penticton Vees 2018/19

The Vees looking to rally from last season disappointment

Last year’s injury-riddled season for the Penticton Vees, and to some, an all too early exit from the B.C. Hockey League playoffs, left many people wanting more.

Among them, president, head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson.

Penticton Vees head coach and general manger Fred Harbinson during training camp this week.
Mark Brett/Western News

“Did we have a good year last year? Yeah, compared to most teams we did. Was it what we wanted? No,” said Harbinson, whose squad began training camp this week and played their first exhibition game Wednesday, a 3-1 away victory over the West Kelowna Warriors.

“We always want to win a championship here. We didn’t get to the final last year, we didn’t win a championship and the guys all understood over the summer we need to get better, from our coaches to our players.”

About the off season he said: “Well, some years everything goes easy and smooth, and some years it’s a little more difficult, and this was one of those more difficult ones but you know what, so far, things are looking pretty good.”

Over 4,000 fans packed the South Okanagan Events Centre on March 26 for the seventh and deciding game of the Interior Division playoffs against the Trail Smoke Eaters.

When the contest ended, the crowds quietly exited the building with the score clock showing 4-2 in favour of the visitors.

So what can the fans expect to see at the Sept. 29 home opener against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs?

Kolby Thornton in net at the Penticton Vees training camp this week.
Mark Brett/Western News

“A big, fast team that wants to take another step,” said Harbinson.

“It seems like last year losing to Trail was a bit of a setback but so far our bounce back has been pretty good. “Everyone has expectations outside of this room but we put it on ourselves, so they’re going to see a team that’s very passionate about playing the right way and playing to win every night.”

Unfortunately, injuries to key players have carried over into this year with incoming captain Massimo Rizzo and fellow forward Cassidy Bowes not skating.

Related: Penticton Vees net new goaltender

It’s hoped Rizzo’s off-ice training injury will be healed in time for the Sept. 7 regular season opener in Langley but Bowes will miss the first month of the schedule after having shoulder work.

Harbinson is particularly happy with the looks of his returnees.

“(Ryan) Sandelin put in a lot of effort over the summer, leaned his body out and he’s healthy now. He was banged up pretty bad at the end of last season,” said Harbinson. “Jack Barnes looks great. Kenny Johnson and Lucas Sillinger look like they’ve gained a step and James Miller has put on 10 pounds of muscle.”

Ryan Sandelin will be back as a Penticton Vee for the upcoming season.
Mark Brett/Western News

He’s also impressed with the newcomers.

Related: NHL prospect joins Penticton Vees

That includes the goaltending duo of University of Michigan alumni, 1998-born Jack LaFontaine of Mississauga and Derek Krall (1999) of Nanaimo who was last year’s Vancouver Island Hockey League goalie of the year.

Krall saw BCHL action in 2017/18, including playoff time for the Powell River Kings, his best game, a 2-1 win over Vernon stopping 46 shots.

In three games last February he kicked out 110 of 113 shots to earn the nod as the BCHL player of the week.

“It looks solid to me,” Harbinson said about his goaltending. “I have two very capable guys, more than capable honestly. Obviously, Jack LaFontaine, the guy that’s already played two years of college hockey, playing at a level that all these guys want to get to and has been drafted to the NHL (2016 third round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes).”

Related: Trail defeats Penticton in BCHL Game 7

Attitude is another plus, according to Harbinson, when it comes to the new faces.

“We can see it already,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that were captains on their teams before they got here. We’ve got some really good outgoing people with strong leadership qualities. Even though they’ve only been a day or so with our program they’re not sitting in a corner, they’re stepping up and are willing to speak and interject their thoughts and feelings.

“Those are the kind of guys I really like, outgoing personalities that want to jump in with both feet.”

He added one of the most important aspects of training camp happens off the ice.

Derek Krall will will be one of two new faces in net for the Penticton Vees this season.
Mark Brett/Western News

“We had our first real meeting yesterday (Tuesday) to talk about our culture and what it means to play for our program and how special it is from the coaching staff to the players to be part of this,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who were great players in other places. They have to buy into that team-first mentality and when they do, great things can happen for themselves as individuals and our team as a whole.”

The annual Peaches Cup inter-squad match is Friday at 5 p.m. at the SOEC and admission is free.

The exhibition season continues with a home-and-home series Aug. 31 in Wenatchee against the Wild, returning to the SOEC the following night for a 6 p.m. start.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.


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