Penticton Vees new puckstopper Michael Garteig has never seen such talent in training camp.
And he should know, having played two seasons with the Coastal Conference champion Powell River Kings.
As training camp concluded Monday, aside from the coaching staff on the ice and parents watching from the cushy seats in the South Okanagan Events Centre, Garteig may have had the best view of the talent.
“There is tons of skill,” said Garteig. “The forwards here are amazing. Our D are skilled. It’s going to be unreal.”
Hearing those words will get Vees fans pumped for their Sept. 30 home opener. The coaching staff will have its work cut out to shape the 21-man roster. That is a sore topic with Vees coach and general manager Fred Harbinson, who told the Western News during the summer he doesn’t like the change.
Garteig, the reigning BCHL Goalie of the Year, feels facing that calibre of players in practice will only make him better.
Returning up front is Logan Johnston, who just had the C stitched to his sweater, Curtis Loik, Joey Benik and Travis St. Denis, acquired from the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Also picked up are twins, Connor and Ryan Reilly. On defence, there is Troy Stecher, now an alternate captain, Kyle Beaulieu, Chad Bannor and Nick Amies picked up from the Capitals. Notable forward recruits include Minnesotans Mario Lucia (Minnesota Wild), Garrett Hendrickson and Steven Fogarty (New York Rangers). On defence, the notables are Minnesota’s Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets), brother of the twins and Shane Hanna. In goal is six-foot-five Chad Katunar, who appears to be Garteig’s backup.
Cody DePourcq has been drooling over the skill.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said DePourcq, who dressed as an affiliate player for the Vees last season. “The three draft picks have definitely shown how well they can play. It’s great to watch.”
DePourcq, who has a good chance of making the team, wants to add to the local flavour with Johnston. Another is Grant Nicholson the son of Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. He is aiming to be a fourth-line energy forward.
During the summer, Nicholson trained with Vees assistant coach Michael Hengen. You would think that gives him the inside track to a spot. He is eager to play for the junior A club his father captained in the early ‘70s.
“It would be great to follow in his footsteps and play where he played and grew up,” said Nicholson. “It would be a lot of history for me to play here.”
Nicholson has impressed Harbinson in how he has transformed physically and matured mentally. Being a wrecking ball is one thing that made him stand out.
“I don’t know if there was a kid that threw more checks in our camp than Grant,” said Harbinson, whose team is ranked 12th in the Canadian Junior Hockey League top 20 rankings. “He knows what we have and what we don’t have. He definitely filled the role of a hard, forechecking, defensively sound forward. We are really happy with him.”
Fogarty has seen the skill since arriving too.
“St. Denis, I have heard is an electrifying player,” said the former Edina Hornet from Minnesota, who chose Penticton because it’s a winning organization and he fell in love with the area. “Logan the captain, I have heard he is kind of the tough guy. He has a lot of skill too.”
The question many will ask, is with the returning players, recruited and others who were affiliates such as Tanner House, who will make the cut?
“There was a few surprises,” said Harbinson, who is cautious with what he reveals about players. “I think it’s going to be fun moving forward to the exhibition season.”
The Vees first exhibition game is slated for Sept. 8 against the Wenatchee Wild at 7 p.m. On Friday the Vees travel to Coquitlam then conclude the exhibition schedule Sept. 17 (5 p.m. start) against Coquitlam as the two will meet in the regular season on Sept. 23.
Emanuel Sequeira is the sports editor for the Penticton Western News