OPPONENT: Victoria Grizzlies (Island Division)
The Penticton Vees kick-off their 2013-2014 season Friday afternoon when they face the Victoria Grizzlies at the BCHL Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack. This is the first game of the Showcase and therefore the first game of the BCHL regular season; first of 928 games.
The Vees are coming off a strong exhibition showing, winning three and tying two other affairs, as they were the only undefeated team in the BCHL. It’s a step in the right direction heading into the regular season, as the Vees were dynamite defensively, only surrendering six goals in five games. Plenty of new faces too, and the extended pre-season schedule only helped develop chemistry heading into this weekend.
This team’s strength does start from the back-end out, In goal 20 year-old Olivier Mantha (Alaska Anchorage) and 18 year-old Hunter Miska looked sharp in pre-season and both appear to be on top of their games heading into this weekend. Mantha posted a shutout over West Kelowna and just surrendered one goal against Salmon Arm in his two starts; a brilliant performance against the Silverbacks. Miska has been dialed-in, he posted a clean sheet in a half games work against West Kelowna, was air-tight against Trail as only one puck got past him and it was the same story against the ‘Backs last Saturday. Between the two ‘tenders, the opposition has only scored three goals in four and a half games.
The Vees boast plenty of size on their blue-line, as all seven defenders are 6’1 or taller. Blake Butzow is the tallest, checking-in at 6’6 but didn’t make the trip down due to an illness. Right behind Butzow is veteran Chris Rygus, another big body, standing at 6’3 and weighing-in at 220 pounds. Alex Coulombe (Vermont) checks-in at 6’4, Paul Stoykewych (Western Michigan) at 6’2 and Brett Beauvais (Bemidji), Jarod Hilderman and Patrick Sexton are all 6’1. The Vees wanted to build a back-end that had some size and was hard to play against in what appears to be an ultra-competitive Interior Division. This group can move the puck as well, as Beauvais, Stoykewych, and Coulombe and even 16 year-old Hilderman are smooth skating rear-guards.
Up front, this team isn’t big but it’s built around speed. The Vees do have a good stable of returning veterans, led by Captain Brad McClure (Ferris State) and the likes of Ryan Gropp (NoDak), Travis Blanleil (Vermont), Cody DePourcq (Denver) and Cam Amantea. More veteran experience was added with the additions of Riley Alferd (USHL) and Ben Dalpe (Pembroke Lumber Kings). The Vees boast a good stable of rookies in Jack Ramsey (Minnesota), Max Coatta, Matt Serratore, Max Becker (Princeton) Josh Blanchard and Anthony Conti (Alaska-Anchorage), Plenty of speed and skill up and down the line-up and some size as well with Ramsey and Conti willing to put the opposition through the boards.
The Victoria Grizzlies look to have replenished the cupboards nicely, as they do return eight players from last season’s Island Division pennant winners. The Fitzgerald triplets headline the list of returning players. Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald (Bemidji) anchor the offense, as the three teamed up for 162 points last season. Myles led the team in scoring, as he collected 30 goals and 71 points. The question with the Grizzlies is who will provide the secondary scoring?
Former Vee and newly anointed Captain Mark McLellan returns for his second full season. McLellan will provide some grit up front and will look to improve on his 20 point season from last year. Stefan Burzan was brought in from the Surrey Eagles in the off-season and will be a nice piece to the Grizzlies depth. There are some new faces upfront that will be asked to provide some offense to help take the pressure of the triplets.
The Grizz made some noise in their recruiting this summer when they signed four players from St. Andrew’s College in Ontario. The Grizz signed two defensemen in Jacob Kearley and Rory McGuire, as well as forwards Jay Mackie and Jake Stirling. The four are expected to make a significant impact with the hockey club and will make their debut this afternoon.
A familiar face greets the Vees between the pipes, as Nic Renyard will likely face his old squad this afternoon. Renyard was sent to Coquitlam to complete the John Siemer trade but had his rights then sent to his hometown Grizzlies. Alec Dillon is the other goalie on the Grizz roster, a 6’5 Victoria native who played last year in the VIJHL.
Fans can tune into Fasthockey to watch the game or they can listen online via Mixlr, starting at 3:15 with Fraser Rodgers and Trevor Miller. I will post line-ups for both teams closer to game time.