Penticton Vees lose top scorer

Surgery required for Penticton Vees top forward

Bad luck, and plenty of it, has come the Vees way this season.

So just as things were starting to fall back into place — speedy forward Chris Klack is on the horizon of returning from a shoulder injury, their goalie tandem coming off a great November, top defensemen Jonny Tychonick and Ryan O’Connell set to return soon from Team Canada West duties at the World Junior A Challenge — misfortune has come knocking again.

Scoring leader Grant Cruikshank hobbled to the bench during the Vees 5-2 win over the West Kelowna Warriors last Friday. What was believed to be a broken ankle at first, actually required surgery on Tuesday. Cruikshank is not expected to return this season.

“For everybody in town that wants to know how we are going to replace him, well, there is no way you replace that kid. He is one of the fastest, if not the fastest player in the league. He started off with an injury this year and was just starting to come into his own,” said Vees head coach Fred Harbinson. “You are not going to find a player this year that can replace him.”

A few days later, O’Connell broke his hand playing against the U.S. while suited up for Team Canada West.

“This one is a tough one. Losing these guys is pretty devastating, but there is nothing we can do about it,” said Harbinson.

But, the kingdom is not ready to kneel just yet. The Vees have proved to be a resilient bunch. Since the start of the season they have learned how to play with some missing element or injury plaguing the lineup.

“We feel horrible for Grant but we can’t feel bad for ourselves. We want to win for him and we have to stick to what we are doing. We obviously are thinking and praying for his healthy recovery but we have to stay dialled in on our own details,” said defenceman Nicky Leivermann.

On Thursday the Vees announced the signing of Ocean Wiesblatt, a University of Vermont commit, who spent the last year and a half with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Harbinson hopes Wiesblatt will bring some of the speed they lost with Klack, and now Cruikshank, being out.

Still, Harbinson said it is going to be up to the players on the bench on what happens next.

“With all these losses someone is going to have to pick up a couple of per cent here and there and find a way. That is just the way it is. I still think we have a team that can make a lot of noise at the end of the year if hopefully we don’t lose many more guys for the long-term. I guess if it was easy everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be as much fun so it is just one more thing for us to deal with and we will find a way to do that.”

As the Vees limp into the Christmas break, the one good thing is it will give Harbinson and the Vees staff some time re-assess their lineup.

“There is not a lot of options. I think we will have two cards left, so we grab two guys or make a move. It is not as easy as snapping your fingers and finding a player, especially when you are in this situation. Teams know you are vulnerable and the asking price will be high. Years ago when we had less teams making the playoffs we had more trading partners. This year there is one team that doesn’t make it so there is not a lot of teams willing to give someone up.”

The Vees face the West Kelowna Warriors for the last time this season on Friday on the road, then the Nanaimo Clippers come to the SOEC for Teddy Bear Toss night at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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