Penticton, BC: The Penticton Vees pride themselves on moving players on to the next stage of their hockey and educational careers in the NCAA. Thirteen former members of the Vees are in contention for the 2019 NCAA National Championship. The tournaments gets underway today, March 29.
The number one seed St. Cloud State Huskies begin their tournament against the American International Yellow Jackets at 4:30 Pacific. The matchup features three former Penticton Vees. On the Huskies roster, Patrick Newell and Easton Brodzinski spent time in Penticton. Newell for one season, 2014-15, when he led the team in scoring with 47 points in 56 games. He then added 14 points in the playoffs to help the Vees capture the Fred Page Cup. He is a top-10 candidate for the Hobey Baker Award this season as a senior, finishing third in the nation with 47 points.
Brodzinski also spent just one season in Penticton, 2015-16. It was an impactful one as he finished fourth in team scoring with 66 points, including 32 goals. He is in his second season at St. Cloud, improving his point total from his freshman year from 24 to 28.
On the Yellow Jackets, Darius Davidson spent half a season with the Vees, also in 2015-16. Acquired December 9 of that season from the Surrey Eagles, Davidson provided some depth for the team with three goals and two assists before returning to the Eagles the following season. In 30 games this season Davidson scored five times and added three assists.
The Ohio State Buckeyes face-off against the University of Denver Pioneers at 1:00, another matchup that features three former Vees. On the Buckeyes, Ryan O’Connell patrols their blueline after one season in the South Okanagan. Coming to the BCHL from St. Andrews College in Ontario, O’Connell was a 7th-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017 and provided steady defence with solid offence. He scored three goals and 11 assists in 26 games, before unfortunately suffering a season-ending injury at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Truro, Nova Scotia. He played two games at the tournament and received a gold medal. He had one goal and one assist in 30 games this season.
The Pioneers have two players who played for the Vees, one briefly and one for two seasons. Liam Finlay appeared in three games as an affiliate player in 2013-14 before 10 games in 2014-15. He scored a goal and four assists that year before being moved to the Vernon Vipers. Griffen Mendel was a member of the Vees defence corps for two seasons, 2015-2017, using his 6’4” frame in a shutdown role. He scored four goals and 20 assists in two seasons, before scoring twice with four assists during the 2017 Fred Page Cup playoffs, helping Penticton crown themselves BCHL champions. With the Pioneers this season he scored once with five assists in 38 games.
The fourth-seed University of Massachusetts Minutemen are taking on the Harvard Crimson, a game that features just one Vees alum. Lewis Zerter-Gossage was a member of the 2014-15 Penticton Vees, scoring 18 goals and 28 assists in 57 games. He appeared in just 11 playoff games, but recorded six points to help Penticton win the Fred Page Cup. He is now a senior at Harvard University and was named one of the teams co-captains for this season. He set a career high with 18 goals to go along with six assists in 32 games. Their game goes at 12:00.
The final matchup of March 29 features two players who were members of the 2017-18 Penticton Vees. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have Nicky Leivermann on their backend. Leivermann, a 7th-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2017, joined the Vees and was an offensive weapon from the blue line. He scored 10 goals with 27 assists while being limited to 43 games. He was named to the BCHL’s All-Rookie Team before sustaining a frightening check from behind in game three against the Coquitlam Express. He was stretchered off the ice and wouldn’t suit up again. At Notre Dame he scored once with one assist in 22 games.
Clarkson University captured their first ECAC Championship since 2007 this season, thanks to an overtime winner from Vees alum Chris Klack. Klack was an impactful player during his two-year tenure in Penticton, scoring 74 points in 90 regular season games from 2016-2018. His playoff performance was even better as he was nearly a point-per-game player with 29 points in 31 games, helping the Vees win in 2017. He had a solid freshman year with the Golden Knights by scoring five goals with five assists in 36 games. Clarkson and Notre Dame play at 3:30.
The other four matchups begin tomorrow, March 30. The defending champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs are the second seed in the tournament and have one Vees alum. Jarod Hilderman spent two years in Penticton as a shutdown defenceman. He scored just one goal with 13 assists from 2013-2015, but doubled his points per game in the playoffs as he would score twice with eight assists in 33 career playoff games. He was a member of the 2015 Fred Page Cup championship. He is now in his junior season with the Bulldogs appearing in 35 games over his three seasons there. The Bulldogs will be opposed by the Bowling Green Falcons who do not have any Vees alum on the roster.
The Arizona State Sundevils against the Quinnipiac Bobcats features 18 former BCHL players, but just one who spent time with the Vees. Desi Burgart played his 17-year-old season in Penticton, appearing in 37 games with four goals and two assists in 2015-16. He was moved to the Surrey Eagles where he became an impact player, including 10 playoff goals in 12 games for them last season. As a freshman at Quinnipiac he scored three goals and five assists in 31 games.
The Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks are the third seed for the tournament and their opening-round matchup has them playing the Providence Friars. One player in this game is a Vees alum, and one of the most impactful players in recent Vees history. Scott Conway had just one season with the Vees after returning to the junior ranks following one season at Penn State University. In 2015-16 Conway led the Vees in scoring with a staggering 56 goals and 60 assists in 56 games. He is one of just 20 players in the history of the franchise to score 50 goals in a season. He is now a senior at Providence and scored 14 goals with 13 assists in 39 games this year.
The final matchup has the Cornell University Big Red taking on the Northwestern Huskies with just one Vees alum. Joe Leahy was a Penticton Vees for a season and a half from 2016-2018, playing in 80 games while scoring six goals and 25 assists. He was a member of the 2017 Fred Page Cup championship. He was traded to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks at the 2018 trade deadline. As a freshman with the Big Red he scored once with four assists in 28 games.