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NHL Young Stars Showcase Brings Hockey Excitement to Penticton

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Penticton, B.C. – Hockey enthusiasts in Penticton, British Columbia, were treated to a thrilling display of emerging talent and seasoned legends at the annual Young Stars Classic. This celebrated event, featuring prospects from the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets, took place at the South Okanagan Events Centre (SOEC) and left fans yearning for more hockey action.

Despite its status as a Jr. A arena, the SOEC exudes a majestic aura. Since its inauguration in 2008, this dual-sheet complex has become a hub for all things hockey, home to the Okanagan Hockey Academy, the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame, and the BCHL’s Penticton Vees. Under the guidance of head coach Fred Harbinson, the Vees recently secured their second consecutive championship, with Bradly Nadeau, the 2022-23 leading scorer, being drafted 30th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.

In addition to fostering homegrown talent, the Vees have become the go-to Jr. A program for prominent NHL alumni who wish to pave the NCAA path for their sons. Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer, a legendary defenseman, saw his sons Jackson and Joshua don the Vees’ jersey before pursuing their collegiate careers at Arizona State University. Even 15-year-old Luke Niedermayer has embraced the Vees’ legacy by joining the OHA’s U-17 team.

Furthermore, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Richter, and Jason Arnott, all former NHL stars, entrusted the Vees to nurture their sons’ hockey journeys towards higher education. Jackson Nieuwendyk, after two successful years in Penticton, now graces the ice at Canisius College, while William Richter, affectionately known as “Beanie,” continues his hockey endeavors at Yale. Callum Arnott, Jason Arnott’s nephew, will assume the captaincy for the Vees in the upcoming 2023-24 season, marking his second stint with the team.

The SOEC’s state-of-the-art amenities make it an ideal host for the NHL prospect tournament in Western Canada. Officially organized by the Vancouver Canucks, the Young Stars Classic has evolved over the years to its current format: a three-game round-robin featuring the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, and Jets. The presence of two ice sheets enables concurrent practice sessions, while spacious dressing-room facilities provide the teams with a temporary home during the event.

Penticton’s picturesque late-summer climate, nestled alongside a serene lake, enhances its allure as a hockey hub. In this welcoming community, hockey management, scouts, players, and fans congregate to celebrate the sport they cherish. Remarkably, even when players venture out for team dinners donning their team-logoed polo shirts, the locals maintain a respectful distance, understanding the significance of this event.

The Canucks’ management team showed unwavering support in Penticton, with the suite in the southwest corner of the arena brimming with personnel. Among the notable figures were the iconic Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, now engaged in player development under their former teammate Chris Higgins. The Sedins’ presence drew star-struck kids seeking photos in the arena’s concourse during Vancouver’s tournament-opening triumph over the Calgary Flames, where they secured a resounding 7-1 victory.

In Penticton, the Oilers enjoyed the boisterous backing of a passionate fan base. Notably, the team has been achieving success at the NHL level, fueling optimism that they could be the squad to break Canada’s Stanley Cup drought. Despite GM Ken Holland’s candid acknowledgment of trading several draft picks and prospects to bolster the “win now” mentality, the Oilers chose to embrace their youth in the Young Stars event. With three 18-year-old goaltenders, including only one drafted, the Oilers ended with a record of 1-1-1. One standout was 18-year-old right-shot defenseman Beau Akey, a second-round draft pick from Nashville, who exhibited poise, maturity, and confidence, notably on the first-unit power play.

The Winnipeg Jets, concluding the tournament with a 1-2-0 record, faced goal-scoring challenges, registering just six goals across three games. Their sole victory came in a shootout against Vancouver, thanks in part to Thomas Milic, the reigning WHL goalie of the year. Milic’s splendid puck-stopping skills, evident in his 39-save performance on 41 shots, hinted at a promising transition to the next level. Though passed over in the draft twice, Milic’s compelling performance may earn him a spot in the AHL, furthering his development.

Under the guidance of new head coach Trent Cull, the Flames’ prospects rebounded admirably following a challenging 7-1 loss to the Canucks in their tournament opener. In a feisty “Battle of Alberta” matchup against the Oilers, the Flames secured a thrilling overtime victory with a 4-on-3 power-play goal, courtesy of the towering 6-foot-8 Adam Klapka. Matt Coronato, Calgary’s first-round pick from 2021, showcased glimpses of his potential, particularly when unleashing his one-timer on the power play.

For the hosting Canucks, whose prospect pool has faced depletion due to trades and draft outcomes, the Young Stars event rekindled hope in their management’s vision. The Canucks were the only team to leave the tournament unbeaten in regulation, boasting a 2-0-1 record. Despite fielding more of their own players than other teams, with just four camp invites, the standout player in Penticton was winger Aidan McDonough.

McDonough, 23, participating in his first Young Stars event after turning pro in March, impressed with three consecutive power-play goals across all three games, securing the tournament’s top scorer title. Though the Canucks boast a surplus of wingers, McDonough’s rapid development since being drafted in the seventh round in 2019 has elevated him to a prominent status.

In the previous season, the Canucks benefited from the prolific scoring of Russian free-agent signing Andrei Kuzmenko, who netted 39 goals. This year, they appear to have unearthed more hidden gems. Nikita Tolopilo, a 6-foot-5 Belarusian goaltender, showcased his skills with a 1.82 GAA in 99 minutes, allowing just three goals on 29 shots. Defenseman Akito Hirose, who emerged from college play last season to compete in seven NHL games, concluded the tournament as the leading scorer, accumulating five points. Cole McWard closely followed with four points, while center Max Sasson contributed three points.

As Ken Holland, the Edmonton Oilers’ GM, emphasized, events like the Young Stars Classic provide invaluable opportunities for prospects to shine among their peers. With the participation of 29 out of the NHL’s 32 teams in this year’s prospects event, the enthusiasm radiating from the rink and the town signifies the impending arrival of another exciting hockey season. While wins and losses may not carry weight, the Young Stars Classic serves as a crucial platform where careers are defined, reputations are forged, and the future of the NHL takes center stage.

Reference:

https://thehockeynews.com/news/nhl-young-stars-brings-hockey-fun-to-penticton-but-theres-a-serious-agenda-afoot

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