Stefan Gonzales of the Chilliwack Chiefs fights a Merritt Centennials player for the puck during an exhibition game at Prospera Centre on Friday.

Regular season starts as Vees visit Chiefs

BCHL, Chilliwack Chiefs

If Chilliwack Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl wants to know where his crews stands in the BCHL, he’ll get no better test than Saturday night’s visit by the Penticton Vees.

An early favourite to hoist the Fred Page Cup next spring, the vaunted Vees bring their stacked roster to Prospera Centre for the season opener.

Smyl has to figure out a way to beat a junior A team that resembles a Western Hockey League team in the number of NHL draft picks it can claim.

Penticton’s roster figures to include Minnesota Wild prospect Mario Lucia (60th overall, 2011).

Steven Fogarty, a forward, was picked in the  third round pick (72nd ova) by the New York Rangers.

Defenceman Mike Reilly was chosen in the fourth round (98th ova) by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he’ll play alongside brothers Connor and Ryan.

The supporting cast includes returning 30-goal man Joey Benik, just named one of the team’s alternate captains.

“There is a lot of leadership throughout the whole group of guys,” Benik said after being handed the A. “It’s a great feeling obviously to be wearing one of the letters here in Penticton.”

Penticton’s captain is hometown boy Logan Johnston, a 20-year-old who had 11 goals and 32 points in 56 regular season games last year.  Johnston had six goals in nine playoff games last spring.

As loaded as the Vees are up front, their strength might be in net.

Head coach and GM Fred Harbinson acquired reigning BCHL goaltender of the year Michael Garteig from the Powell River Kings in August, giving Penticton the best last-line-of-defence in the league.

Garteig, a Prince George minor hockey product, appeared in 48 games for the Kings in 2010-11, compiling a 36-8-3 record and tying the BCHL single season shutout record at seven.

“Garteig demonstrated that he was the best goalie in the BCHL last year,” said Vees coach and GM Fred Harbinson. “Michael’s addition to our roster is significant and is another step in our drive towards a championship.”

The Vees went 38-17-3-2 last year, placing second to Vernon in the Interior conference. Penticton bombed the Quesnel-now-Chilliwack Millionaires in the first round, bouncing them in four games.

The Vees fell short in round two, losing in five games to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

“They are probably one of the favorites to win the BCHL title, so that means they are one of the favorites to win the Royal Bank Cup,” Smyl said of the daunting task ahead. “They’re a very good team with high-end skill, and they  have depth with very experienced goaltending in Garteig.”

The plan of attack will be simple to say but difficult to execute for the Chiefs, who must stay out of the penalty box.

“We’ve got to eliminate turnovers, play solid team defense and make sure we don’t take bad penalties, because they will have a great power play,” Smyl cautioned.

This is the first of seven meetings between these two teams this season, as the Chiefs rejoin the BCHL playing in the Interior conference.

Chilliwack will move to the Coastal conference after this season. Find a BCHL season preview in the Thursday Progress.

— Sports & Stuff in the Chilliwack Mall will be hosting a ‘Meet the Chiefs’ night tonight (Thursday), starting at 6:30 p.m.

Two days before the home and regular season opener versus Penticton, fans have a chance to interact with the players and coaches.

Sports & Stuff is the official distributor of Chiefs merchandise, offering gear in the store and running the Prospera Centre concourse store as well.

Get more info by phoning 604-858-2614 or check online at www.sportsandstuff.2ya.com/.

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