Penticton Vees alumnus Beau Bennett received an invitation to the U.S. men’s national team orientation camp, in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“I was sitting around and got an email that said congrats on getting the invite,” said Bennett. “I was really excited. I am a younger guy and going in there I will get a good experience out of it. It was up on NHL.com within five minutes of opening the email and I started getting text messages congratulating me.”
The Gardena, Calif. native played with the Vees in 2009-10 and was named the Interior Conference Rookie of the Year. The former Vees forward who was drafted 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010, is one of 48 players who were invited to the camp alongside Olympic veterans Dustin Brown, Zach Parise and Patrick Kane. They were with the team in Vancouver in 2010 when they captured silver.
“I’m kind of spoiled in Pittsburgh being around the best players in the world and seeing how they train. It definitely will be awesome to be a part of this and I feel lucky and privileged to be a part of this,” said Bennett. “Pretty much all the names on the invite are guys that you enjoy watching. I am excited to be a part of that and I am just going to take in everything I can and take it forward into my career.”
Last season with the Penguins was a bit of a coming out party for Bennett, who skated with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal for part of the year. Bennett, who had plied his trade with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League, said after dealing with injuries in college at Denver University he was hungry to get back on the ice. He went on to develop his two-way game with the AHL club. Bennett added Penticton is also a turning point for him.
“Being the first time away from home I had great billets and a great roommate and teammate Ben Sexton. The biggest thing about coming to Penticton was the coach. Coach (Fred) Harbinson let me maintain my style of play while just trying to refine it a little more and that was a big key,” he said.
Vees coach Harbinson said the U.S. is making a smart move bringing in some young guys to get a taste of what it is like, even if they don’t get on the actual roster for the Sochi Olympics.
“It just goes to show that Beau had a great year for his first year of pro hockey and it was noticed by USA Hockey,” said Harbinson. “Elite players find a way to adapt to their surroundings and when he came here he was playing midget hockey in California and was well coached but coming to the junior game helped him become a complete player.”
Harbinson said he saw something early on in Bennett.
“Beau is one of those guys that I could see would have a chance to have a career in the NHL. As a rookie with the Vees he scored 120 points and in this era, where it is hard to score, it was quite something to see.”
The Bennett name may appear on the back of a Vees jersey again, as the alumnus said his little brother Shane Bennett has been invited to their main tryout camp next month. He is expected to be a full-time roster player or an affiliate.
“With our organization we try to surround ourselves with good people and when you recruit good people and families most often you are going to be successful. Shane is coming here because we think there is something about him. We know he is a good kid and will compete hard.”
Chicago Blackhawks defenceman, Duncan Keith was also invited to Olympic orientation camp but for Canada’s team. Keith, who played for the Penticton Panthers in 2000-01, is one of 15 players who won gold with Canada in 2010 that was invited.