It’s only two days into Penticton Vees training camp but Fred Harbinson likes what he’s seeing.
The Vees president, GM and head coach said everyone showed up in terrific shape, and there was a good pace to the late-morning practises and early-evening scrimmage games between the two groups.
Harbinson singled out a couple of key players returning from season-ending injuries: 2000-born defenceman Conner Hutchison and 2001-born forward Jackson Niedermayer.
“Hutch looks great out there, he’s flying,” said Harbinson of the speedster from Hicksville, New York.
“Niedermayer has been outstanding … he dropped 20 pounds training his butt off in the off-season.”
Hutchison, who collected 10 points in just 22 games last season, is committed to University of Vermont.
Niedermayer, a Newport Beach, Calif. native, had six points in 36 games. He is committed to Arizona State University.
Harbinson said several highly-touted new faces have impressed during the first few days, including centre Danny Weight and right-winger Tristan Amonte – both sons of former NHL stars.
Harbinson said it will take a few weeks to figure out where all the pieces fit, but noted the coaching staff has a good sense of some of the logical combinations up front and on defence.
“We’ve got a good versatile group and what I like most is how deep we are down the middle,” said Harbinson, adding the goaltenders led by Derek Krall and Yaniv Perets have looked noticeably strong in the first few days of camp.
Harbinson said everyone is looking forward to playing in a pre-season game. The Vees do play their first one tonight at 7 p.m. at Royal LePage Place against the West Kelowna Warriors, but the regulars will sit as it is traditionally a “rookie” game.
The coach said the lineup will consist mainly of affiliated players and some members of the Anaheim Jr. Ducks under-18 team that is attending Vees camp for the fourth straight year.
It will be a different story Friday at the South Okanagan Events Centre as the Vees welcome the Merritt Centennials in a 7 p.m. puck-drop.
“A few guys will sit out but we’ll be going mostly with our veterans,” said Harbinson.
The Vees make the return visit to Merritt on Saturday.
In between the three games, the Vees play their annual Peaches Cup intra-squad game Thursday at 5 p.m. at the SOEC.
Assistant coaches Matt Fraser and Patrick Sexton – in his first season on the Vees staff – will be drafting the teams and serving as rival coaches for the game.
“It’s serious business,” said Harbinson. “They will sit down and draft their teams … they won’t be able to blame me for picking the teams for them.”
As for Harbinson, he’s excited about his 13th season with the Vees and his 25th season as a coach.
“It never gets old,” said the four-time Fred Page Cup winning coach. “It’s a privilege to be able to do what we do.”
The Calgary native turns 48 in October but demonstrated in the first day of practice Monday that he still has some offensive skill tucked away.
During a drill, he gathered up a loose puck in the slot, skated in and beat the veteran Krall with an impressive bar-down finish that had everyone on the ice hooting.
“(Krall) thought I was going glove side but I fooled him and went under the bar blocker side,” said Harbinson, laughing. “I worked hard in the summer, too, and I just wanted to show I’ve still got a couple left in me.”