The Penticton Vees roll into Trail tonight on a mission.
With six games remaining in the regular season, Vees coach Fred Harbinson is three wins away from his 500th victory in the BCHL, and while Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini wishes him well, the Smoke Eaters hope to prolong his quest.
“It’s a huge milestone, and we hope he gets it at home, but we’ve played them well this year with a win and a shootout and overtime games, and don’t want to help him out in our building.”
Trail has a 1-2-0-2 record against the Vees, with every game decided by one-goal, save a 7-4 loss on Nov. 30.
The Vees are on top of the Interior Division standings with 72 points points after 52 games, three points ahead of the Merritt Centennials and a game in hand. For Harbinson, the team’s priority is to win another Interior Division title, but the milestone does hold personal meaning for the coach, who signed on with the club 12 years ago.
“There’s been a lot of options to go to different levels of hockey and when you stay somewhere you want to put your mark on it,” Harbinson told the Penticton Western News. “If you never coach or play in the National Hockey League you want to have some sort of impact on the game and I think we’ve done that here. It’s something they can never take away from you when you reach those kind of milestones. Again, it’s not an individual thing but it’s something I’m proud to have been a part of.”
The Smoke Eaters meanwhile are coming off a 10-3 drubbing of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday. Trail holds down seventh place in the Interior, and beat the Vees, 3-2, the last time they visited Trail on Dec. 15. The Smokies are hoping to continue that success and build momentum for the playoffs, but will be without starting goalie Adam Marcoux for the next two weeks. Marcoux suffered an injury in practice Monday, yet, is expected back for playoffs.
The Smokies have called up committed goalie Logan Terness from the BC Major Midget Vancouver NE Chiefs to backup Donovan Buskey, who picked up his second victory in the win over the Silverbacks. Buskey joined the team at the Jan. 10 trade deadline and will likely see most of the action through Trail’s remaining five games of the season.
For Harbinson, few BCHL coaches have reached the milestone, and if the Vees win three of their final six games, he’ll join Kent Lewis (Powell River Kings), Bill Bestwick (Nanaimo Clippers), and Harvey Smyl (Langley Rivermen) in the BCHL’s 500-win club.
“When you stay somewhere for 12 years it becomes more a legacy piece for me,” added Harbinson. “I was so proud to come to this organization, a team that has so much history and tradition. At some point someone else will come into this seat and hopefully they’ll feel the same way and hopefully when I leave I’ll be part of that history and tradition. It’s definitely more than a job to me.”
Harbinson signed a 5-year-contract extension with the Vees in May.
The Smokies host the Vees tonight at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7 p.m.