Penticton Vees head coach and GM Fred Harbinson has heard all the sports clichés.
“Sure, it’s ‘they’ve got nothing to lose,’ blah, blah, blah,” he said about his team’s B.C. Hockey League playoff series opener Friday against the 16th place Coquitlam Express at the South Okanagan Events Centre. “They’ve (Express) got an easy task because I guarantee, the way their year has gone, they’re going to be pretty loose. We can’t get wrapped up in anything but trying to win one game, two games. It’s the first one to four.”
Coquitlam finished with a record of 15-38-1-4 for 35 points, second worst in the 17-team league. Cowichan Valley Capitals were last with 27 points and was the only club not to make the playoffs.
Harbinson added while the Vees won their home and away meetings against the Express in February 5-1 and 7-1, the first round is anything but a done deal.
“That was only two games and they’ve beaten some pretty good teams in our league,” said Harbinson. “When you start thinking or assume that it’s going to be easy or how fast can you get the series done, that is going to be a major mistake. And I won’t allow it here.
“I’ve done this long enough to know that crazier things can happen. They’re a very good team structurally, and if they were to get a lead, I think they’ll be a team that will sit back on their heels and try to clog things up.”
The Penticton coach feels the key to series success is to come out the gate hard.
“We have to come against them with extreme energy and focus. Whenever we play with energy we seem to execute better and so we just can’t have a lethargic start,” said Harbinson.
He’s also hoping the seats will be full at the SOEC to provide the atmosphere to help generate that energy.
“This team has been through a lot. They’ve fought hard to try to bring two more banners to our city, which they’ve done, and that’s why I’m pleading with the fans not to wait till part way through the series or the playoffs to come out and start supporting this team,” said Harbinson.
If the regular season is any indication, his plea won’t be falling on deaf ears. The Vees set a fan record for Canadian Junior Hockey League teams averaging over 3,000 per game.
According to the Vees star netminder Adam Scheel – who put together a stingy 2.08 goals against average in the 45 games he played, second best in the league – maintaining the drive that won them 40 games, more than any other team, is the plan.
“It’s pretty light,” he said about the atmosphere in the dressing room this week. “Nothing has changed we had a good regular season and we had a lot of success but we can’t change anything just because it’s playoffs.
“Every team in this league is good, especially come this time of year. They’re going to be ready to play us and they’re going to bring their best game, so we have to be ready.”
Scheel only gave up a pair of goals on 38 shots in the games against the Express and even if there isn’t a lot of work, he has no trouble staying in the game mentally.
“It’s not always about stopping the puck. It’s communicating, helping out in D-zone or when they’re rushing the puck up the ice — there’s always times to chip in,” said Scheel. “It’s exciting, everyone looks forward to this time of year and it’s going to be a fun run.”