The Penticton Vees have lost their No. 1 goalie.
Hunter Miska will not be returning to the Vees for the 2015-16 season. Instead, he will join the Dubuque Fighting Saints (in Iowa) in the United States Hockey League (USHL).
In a press release on the Saints’ website, Dubuque acquired Miska from the Fargo Force for a 2016 Phase One sixth round draft pick and a 2016 Phase Two fifth round draft pick. The Force owned Miska’s rights after previously adding him as a free agent.
“I think Dubuque is a great fit, and will really help my development in preparing for college hockey,” said Miska on the Saints’ website. “It’s a great organization that has always had strong teams. I know I will be part of a successful team, and help be the backbone of that team, as we push to win a Clark Cup Championship. I loved my time in Penticton, but I was up for a new challenge to push me to be ready to go to college and be a number one goalie at Minnesota-Duluth.”
In an email, Miska said playing in the USHL is going to be a good opportunity for him because all of the teams are very strong.
“I played in the BCHL for two years and felt that I did the best I could do so I am looking for a new challenge,” wrote Miska, who won 53 games, lost 21 and had seven shutouts to go with a .924 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average in 80 games with the Vees. “I would like to try to be a top goalie in the USHL as well.”
Miska helped lead the Vees to a BCHL and Western Canada Cup championship. Miska was also named the BCHL’s best goalie as he posted a 1.88 goals against average. Miska also teamed up with Brendan Barry to claim the Wally Forslund Memorial Trophy as the top goaltending duo.
The process of becoming a Fighting Saint began near the end of June when he got a call from the five-time Clark Cup champions about the chance.
“I was interested in it for the new challenge and I have a great relationship with the goalie coach of the team,” said Miska of Matt Millar. “It was a long process to getting it finalized.”
Miska said he leaves Penticton with many great memories.
“There are a few that stick out the most to me, which include my billet family, the fans and the bond that I had with my teammates,” said Miska. “My billet family always supported me and I am very grateful for everything that they did for me. Your billets are a huge part of your experience and they made me feel a part of their family. It was a great feeling playing in front of the best fans in the BCHL. They are very supportive and pushed me to want to win even more. Spending nine months out of the year with a group of guys that you hardly know at the beginning, to becoming so close at the end is hard to leave. You feel like they are your family because of the amount of time you spend with each other on and off the ice. I was very fortunate to be a part of a great program. Obviously other great memories were winning the Fred Page cup and the Western Canada cup and everything leading up to those events.”
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson could not be reached for comment.
The news comes not long after the Vees acquired Mitch Brooks, the leading scorer of the junior B Stratford Cullitons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, where former Vee and captain Brad McClure played.
Brooks will bring another dimension to an already talented and deep roster.
Earlier in the week, Harbinson said that Brooks, a five-foot-10, 180-pound forward is expected to fill the void left by Steen Cooper and Cody DePourcq. Harbinson described Brooks as a player that will work in the trenches and brings a 200-foot game on a consistent basis. He will also bring leadership and experience.
“Everybody that I have spoken to, the scouting report is the same. He’s one of the hardest working players on the ice every given night,” said Harbinson.
Brooks, who spent the last three seasons playing junior B with Stratford, the home of former Vee Brad McClure, will also bring versatility to the lineup as he can play centre and wing.
Brooks became available as he felt heading west would help his chances of eventually playing for Western University in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
“It was Mitch’s decision, that’s what he wanted to do,” Cullitons director of hockey operations Paul Jennings said to the Stratford Beacon Herald. “In an effort to play university hockey beyond his overage year he felt he would get the best opportunity to do it (in Penticton).”
The Dorchester, Ont., product scored 63 goals and added 87 assists in three seasons with the Cullitons. He had 41 points in 47 playoff games, helping the team reach the Cherrey Cup all three years.
Jennings called him a leader.
“He’s done everything for an organization in three years you could ask from a player. He’s been a soldier here, and we felt the right thing to do was grant an opportunity he asked for, and we exercised that for him.
“At the end of the day it’s a big void but he brought a lot to the club.”
“I want him to come in and just be a hard player to play against,” said Harbinson. “That is one of the things that got us through those series, especially when we got down in series’ last year. We had some guys that were tenacious every time they hit the ice. That’s the kind of player that Mitch is. He has a motor that doesn’t stop.”
In other Vees news, Harbinson returned on Monday from Superior, Wisconsin, where he was inducted into the Univeristy of Wisonsin-Superior Yellowjackets 2015 Hall of Fame class for the Mertz Mortorelli Coaching Achievement Award. Harbinson was among the top scorers of all-time in Yellowjacket men’s hockey history and was named American Hockey Coaches Association All-American in 1994. But as successful as he was a player, Harbinson has made an even bigger mark as a coach. Starting at UW-Superior in 1995, Harbinson has gone on to coach at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I level and become an accomplished coach at the junior A level. Harbinson has been coaching for 20 years and in that time has helped more than 50 players reach the National Hockey League.
“It was a great weekend,” said Harbinson, who sits ninth on the Yellowjackets all-time list with 66 goals from 1991-95. “I got to see guys, some of them I haven’t seen in maybe 20 years. The athletic director there now, Steve Nelson, will be retiring in January, he was my coach when I played. The guy who gave me my first opportunity to be a hockey coach. I owe him a heck of a lot. It was a great event. Something that you get to cherish as you get older and older.”