Even with the recent departure of 20-year-old defenceman Jonathan Smart, the Penticton Vees will be a much older, more experienced team in 2019-20.

With training camp exactly a month away (Friday), the Vees stack up to have the maximum of six 20-year-olds, along with ten 19-year-olds and four 18-year-olds.

“It just started working out that way when certain guys became available,” said Vees president, GM and head coach Fred Harbinson, who typically has gone with a younger, rookie-laden group in past seasons.

The Vees are close to adding the 10th 19-year-old – a forward – and expect to have an announcement in the coming days.

That would get the Vees to 21 players committed – and healthy – for the start of training camp Aug. 19 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Teams can carry and card up to 23 players, but since the Vees only have the one 17-year-old – defenceman Scott Gilowski – and zero 16-year-olds, Penticton will only be allowed to carry 22 players.

“It is an older group and I’d rather go with 22 at this point than to add a younger guy just for the sake of the extra roster spot,” said Harbinson.

The Vees were in a position with seven 20-year-olds where they’d have to trade or release one of them before the season starts. But Smart, a 20-year-old Kelowna product, decided to accept a scholarship to UBC.

“We’d have loved to have him back but it’s all about guys getting to school,” said Harbinson. “He was a (Canadian Hockey League) player and UBC needed him now.”

Smart, who joined the Vees at last year’s trade deadline from the Western Hockey League, had a goal and two assists in 13 games for Penticton.

In response, the Vees went out and acquired tough and towering 2000-born defenceman Ethan Martini from the Powell River Kings for future considerations.

The 6’ 6”, 210-pound Trail native has a goal, 15 points and 265 penalty minutes in 133 games across three BCHL seasons – the first two spent with his hometown Trail Smoke Eaters

Meanwhile, 2000-born import forward Drew Elser will not be able to return to the Vees this season due to ongoing concussion issues. Elser had four goals and six points in 14 games with the Vees last season.

Harbinson said all committed players are healthy as training camp and the new season nears.

“Obviously we’ve had some guys who were injured coming into the season the last few years,” said Harbinson. “We’ve spoken to everyone and they’re all training hard, a few are here already, and they all can’t wait to get to camp and get going.

ICE CHIPS: The inaugural Vees Alumni and Friends Golf Tournament in support of the Vees Community Heroes Program last weekend at Fairview Mountain Golf Club was a great success, with 92 golfers taking part. Scott Niedermayer, Jim Hughson, Chuck Kobasew, Andy Moog, Scott Carter, Brian McDonald, Dwayne Pentland and Rick Trupp were among those taking part. “It was extremely well received and will continue to grow,” said Fred Harbinson, noting Director of Corporate Partnerships Alex Welsman did a tremendous job of organizing the entire event… Jason McKee, who coached the WHL’s Vancouver Giants in 2016-17 and 2017-18, is the new head coach and GM of the Vernon Vipers. McKee, 40, replaces Mark Ferner, whose contract was not renewed after the 2018-19 season ended… The Vees open their six-game pre-season slate Aug. 21 against the Warriors in West Kelowna. Their first home pre-season game is Aug. 23 against the Merritt Centennials.