A not-so-funny thing happened to the Penticton Vees last year en route to their anticipated appearance at the national championships.
After posting one of their best regular seasons ever in the British Columbia Hockey League, the Vees were expected to move on and advance to the Canadian tourney, which was held in Lloydminster.
But the heavily favoured Penticton squad, which featured 2016 NHL first round picks Tyson Jost (Colorado Avalanche) and Dante Fabbro (Nashville Predators), had their campaign come to an end after losing in the second round of the BCHL playoffs against the West Kelowna Warriors.
“We ran into a team that had a hot goaltender,” Vees coach/GM Fred Harbinson said of the Warriors, who went on to not only capture the BCHL crown but the national RBC Cup as well. “And we ran into some injuries. Some of our key guys were playing injured.”
As for this season, the Vees have reloaded and once again have their sights set on a league crown. They posted an impressive 41-13-3-1 regular season mark, good for top spot in the league’s six-team Interior Division.
After an opening-round bye, Penticton is now waiting for first-round action to conclude before commencing its postseason.
Harbinson, who is also the Vees’ president, now has 10 consecutive winning seasons as the club’s head coach. Since there is no BCHL draft, clubs have to find players on their own to stock their rosters every year.
“We try to go out and recruit the best players year after year and to win championships,” Harbinson said.
Regardless of how they fare in their own league playoffs this year, however, the Vees will still have a chance to qualify for the nationals.
Penticton will host the five-team Western Canada Cup, which begins Apr. 29 and continues until May 7. The two finalists from that event will move on to the Canadian championship.
This year’s national tournament will be staged May 13 to 21. As hosts, the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Cobourg Cougars are the only ones that already know they will be participating in the four-team event.
The Vees last won the BCHL title in 2015.
“Winning our league championship is a huge accomplishment,” Harbinson said. “There’s nobody left from our team that won it two years ago. It’s something everybody is wanting to do.”
He’s also hoping his charges do not have a relaxed approach in their league playoffs, realizing they will still get to compete at the Western Canada Cup.
“I hope not,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything possible to make sure our guys understand (the importance of winning the league title).”
While last year’s Penticton lineup included a number of highly touted players, Harbinson said his current squad is much like the one that captured the BCHL title two years ago.
“I think we shape up quite similar to that,” he said. “We were a four-line come-at-you kind of team. We’re very similar to that to be honest.”Back to Top
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