Friends since the third grade? It didn’t look that way as Mike Reilly fed Mario Lucia some lumber to the back.
The NHL draft picks were matched up against each other during a drill on Wednesday in the South Okanagan Events Centre as the Penticton Vees were midway through its prep camp that began Monday. Neither player was giving up an inch or going easy on each other. It’s an indication both are ready to show the Vees what they bring.
Lucia, the Minnesota Wild’s second round pick who went 60th overall, intends to use camp to get to find his hands and feet again as well as familiarize himself with teammates. When Lucia wasn’t able to get to the net he rang shots off the post.
“It looks like we will have a real good team this year,” said Lucia, who played minor hockey with Reilly.
Throughout Wednesday’s skate Lucia sported a smile as he chatted with new teammates, including captain Logan Johnston.
“This is the first time he was out on the ice,” said Lucia. “Just a little small talk.”
Lucia has found the days long as the players hit the ice twice and do dryland training for an hour following a three-day drive from Minnesota. He admits it has been hard work but has enjoyed it. The six-foot-two -and-a-half forward trained hard during the last season and feels he is in shape.
Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, Lucia decided to join the Vees because of the job the club did in recruiting him.
“I fell in love with the facilities and the coaches,” said Lucia, who scored 30 goals and 54 points in 27 games for Wayzata High School. “Also, with the guys that were up here I knew we would have a good shot at winning it.”
It also didn’t hurt that Lucia finds the area beautiful and said, “I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Just being up here and playing hockey in Canada for a year.”
He made the Vees wait though. The son of Don Lucia, the Minnesota Golden Gophers coach, wanted to make the right decision as he was also considering a United States Hockey League team. Also delaying his choice was attending the draft combine and other commitments following the draft.
“I’m looking forward to the season a lot,” said Lucia, who is billeting with Reilly.
Former Vees captain Derik Johnson may consider a career as a salesman should hockey not work out. It was Johnson who convinced Reilly and his twin brothers Connor and Ryan that Penticton would be a good fit for them. On his advice the Reillys visited Penticton and loved the coaching staff and city.
His early assessment of prep camp has been positive.
“The guys are great so it’s going to be a lot of fun this year,” said Reilly, chosen 98th overall in the 2011 NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth round.
The 18-year-old’s focus is getting into shape since he hasn’t played an actual game for four months.
“I think I’m in pretty good shape right now,” said Reilly.
Harbinson has been pleased with what he has seen from the camp. What has stood out to him is how much better the returning players look.
“Our returning veterans have all worked hard over the course of summer to get themselves bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “There is a lot of good speed out here. A lot of guys with size and I thought our competition level over the last few days has been well.”
The emphasis as training camp begins on Saturday is not holding back. The coaches want to see players get out of their comfort zone and strive to get better.
“Hopefully for the guys that carry through to our main camp, that in the scrimmages they don’t take anything for granted. As far as commitments, you still have to come