Gabe Bast is back.
After missing 21 BCHL games with an upper body injury, Bast is ready to give the Penticton Vees blueline a boost.
“I’m ready to play whenever,” said Bast on Wednesday, unaware that coach-general manager Fred Harbinson plans to insert him into the lineup Friday against the Coquitlam Express.
“The poor kid has been out for a long time. He is excited to get back in,” said Harbinson. “I know the players are happy to get him back. He’s one of the best players in the league. It only makes us better for sure.”
The Red Deer native said he’s feeling good and stronger and in better shape than at the start of the season.
“Missing games isn’t fun. Haven’t really been battle tested in a while so I’m looking forward to getting back into that competitive game-like atmosphere,” said Bast, who has 10 goals and 46 points in 59 career regular season games. “It’s incredibly tough (to watch). You wish you were out there. You’re sitting there watching unable to contribute is very difficult.”
Over the last two weeks the Vees have been working with Bast on his conditioning. During practice, he has been rolling in and out of the rotation.
“Last year (Vees, Bast excited about return) I went through a tough year missing almost the entire season,” said Bast, who yesterday signed his letter of intent with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to play next season. “This has been eight weeks. It felt just as long as those eight months I missed last year.”
As Harbinson said, Bast’s teammates are excited for his return.
“We’ll be right by his side and be playing for him,” said Vees assistant captain Owen Sillinger. “Gabe is a big part of our team. He knows what it takes to win. Hopefully he can do some damage.”
Harbinson said he wouldn’t know until Friday who Bast would skate with, but said they have a lot of options with “seven great defenceman.”
“Our D-core has a little bit of everything,” said Harbinson. “We have got size, mobility, good puck movers.”
When it comes to facing the Express, then hosting the Merritt Centennials on Saturday at 6 p.m., the Vees know what they want and need to do.
“They are a fast puck-moving team, who can score off the rush,” said Sillinger of the Express. “I think if we just play our game, and get the puck below the circles, and just cycle and make plays, that we should do just fine.”
Sillinger, who collected an assist in their 5-2 win over Coquitlam at home on Nov. 9 said in practice that they have worked on details. With the Express playing in a narrow rink, Harbinson said that is hard to prepare for, but the coaching staff have made the players aware of it.
“We just played them a week or so ago so we kind of know what to expect,” he said. “They have been struggling as of late to keep pucks out of their net. It’s kind of both teams are in a situation where they are fighting for wins right now.”
Against the Centennials, Harbinson spoke of losing their last home game against Vernon.
“To me it’s all about our mentality and how we have to be,” said Harbinson, whose Vees (19-4-0) are 7-2-0 at the South Okanagan Events Centre. “I thought we were a much harder team to play against on Saturday (in Vernon) than we were on Friday. We need to get back to that on our home ice. I think our last couple games, on home ice, we haven’t had great starts.”
Harbinson wants to see his team being first on pucks and more physical and have a mentality to not miss assignments.
Ben Brar traded
The Vees traded second-year forward Ben Brar to the Prince George Spruce Kings for future considerations after signing Jamie Armstrong on Thursday. Brar had a goal and four points in 21 games and had four goals and nine points in 55 games as a rookie last year.
Armstrong, 18, started the season in the United States Hockey League with the Sioux City Musketeers, picking up a goal and two points with 21 penalty-minutes in 13 games. Prior to joining Sioux City, the Warwick, Rhode Island, product played prep hockey at Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut for two seasons.
Armstrong scored 22 goals and compiled 51 points in just 27 games last year, finishing second in team scoring. His play caught the attention of scouts as he was ranked 124th by NHL Central Scouting for the 2016 NHL Draft last June. In two seasons with Avon, the six-foot-two, 190-pound winger amassed 33 goals, 58 assists for 91 points in 53 games. Armstrong is committed to Northeastern University. Armstrong’s father Bill, is the director of amateur scouting for the St. Louis Blues and has held that position since August of 2010. He played four seasons of junior hockey in the OHL, winning the Memorial Cup in 1989 with the Oshawa Generals, and was a third round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990. His nine-year pro career was split between the American Hockey League and International Hockey league. Armstrong will wear No. 25 for the Vees and will make his debut in Coquitlam.
Vees notes: The BCHL announced that the November player rankings from NHL Central scouting are out and there are four BCHL players listed among the 18 Canadian Junior Hockey (CJHL) players listed. Among the four BCHLers is Vees defenceman Griffin Mendel. The players are listed as C-level prospects, meaning they are currently seen as mid- to late-round selections. The other players include Alec Capstick – D – Langley Rivermen; Kyle Betts – F – Powell River Kings and Ty Taylor – G – Vernon Vipers.
Follow sports editor Emanuel Sequeira on Twitter: @pentictonsports