You can never have enough good defenceman.
That’s the approach Penticton Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson is taking after he acquired James Miller (98), an offensive defenceman, from the Olds Grizzlys of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) for forward Noah Jordan and future considerations Monday.
“In junior hockey, strong defenceman are worth their weight in gold,” said Harbinson. “Watch our team, I think it’s very evident that our d-core is going to be a big part of our success.”
In a team statement, Harbinson said Miller is a very good skater with offensive tools that they feel will help generate offence. While only 18, he’s closing in on 100 junior A games and that experience is something Harbinson coveted.
Miller, 18, is entering his third season of junior after previously spending the past two in the AJHL. The Spruce Grove, Alta., product had five goals and 21 points in 50 games last season. In 90 career regular season games, he has seven goals and 32 points. Miller was part of Team West for the 2016 CJHL Prospects Game in Surrey and has a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division l commitment to the University of New Hampshire for the 2017-18 season.
Harbinson said making this trade has everything to do with where they ended up a year ago with five defenceman in the playoffs, and one of them was converted forward Dixon Bowen.
“We can make whatever excuses for why we didn’t go all the way last year. A bigger reason, part of the equation, on our end was the decimation of our d-core,” said Harbinson. “I’m going to make sure that we cover ourselves.”
After the recent singing of Kenny Johnson, brother of NHL defenceman Jack Johnson, the addition of Miller gives the Vees eight blue liners. Harbinson said down the road if Sam Rossini recovers from his anterior cruciate ligament injury, he’s another player they will look at. The Vees coach wants to make sure they have strong competition on the back end. Once Gabe Bast returns from his upper body injury, Harbinson said they will make a move if required.
Jordan, 19, scored once in six games for the Vees, after coming from the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s St. Michael’s Buzzers in an off season trade. Miller will wear 19 when he makes his debut Friday in West Kelowna against the Warriors.
The Vees returned from Chilliwack winning both of their games, 6-4 against the Langley Rivermen, thanks to a hat trick performance by Owen Sillinger, then earning a 3-2 win over the Prince George Spruce Kings. The win keeps the Vees undefeated in the Bauer BCHL Showcase at 10 wins with no losses over the five years. Jacob Kamps scored his first BCHL goal, while Grant Cruikshank netted his fourth and Ryley Risling the winner with 15 seconds remaining in the second period. Nolan Hildebrand was pulled after the first period in favour of Mat Robson after making 11 saves on 12 shots. Harbinson made the change because he said Hildebrand looked tense.
“We need to find a way to get him to relax. He’s an outstanding goalie,” said Harbinson. “I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
For Cruikshank, after going goalless in his first three BCHL regular season games, he has now scored in two of his last three. Harbinson said the opposition is starting to know him and make match ups.
“Players that play hard, and have a passion for the game, can create a lot of good things if they have a bit of talent,” said Harbinson. “He’s got a lot of talent. He plays so darn hard. It’s fun to watch him play. He’s a player that can play in all three positions up front.”
Cruikshank said it has been “awesome” playing in the BCHL and helping him adjust to the league from midget is his comfort level with the Vees. He said initially he didn’t know what to expect or how he would be welcomed.
“Your comfort level and that helps you play your game, play your style,” said Cruikshank. “What’s helped me come this far I think that that was one of the biggest things.”
Cruikshank said BCHL play in the regular season compared to preseason is more systematic.
“Now every game is so critical. I think it’s more intense,” he said.
Initially playing with Nicolas Jones and Chris Klack, Cruikshank has clicked with Sillinger and Ty Amonte to form a formidable trio.
“It really doesn’t matter what line we play with on this team because everyone is so good,” he said. “Everyone works well together.”