Penticton Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson is on the doorstep of a milestone very few people have achieved in B.C. Hockey League history.
But to him, with just five games remaining to reach that 500 regular season career plateau, there’s an added bonus.
“It’s not selfish, hopefully we’ll get it (500th win) because we need five wins out of our last 10 games and the cool thing is I want to get it so we can win first place,” said Harbinson, Tuesday prior to the team’s practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees are on top of the Interior Division standings with 67 points after 48 games, five points ahead of the Merritt Centennials who have a game in hand.
But that’s not to say the 500th win, when it comes, will not have a personal meaning to Harbinson 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. 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,” he said. “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.
“When you stay somewhere for 12 years it becomes more a legacy piece for me. 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.”
Averaging over 40 wins during his tenure in Penticton is very much an organizational thing according to Harbinson, who credits not only the team ownership but all the support staff he has worked with.
“People concentrate on championships but for me consistency is harder,” he said. “We talk about doing things the right way on a consistent basis and we’ve done that.
“We’ve been fortunate to win a lot of hockey games doing it and helped a lot of players go on to the next level. Guys are proud of coming from this program and we’re proud of them when they leave.”
While the exact number of BCHL 500-win coaches was not available from the league, search results show just three names on the list, former coaches Kent Lewis (Powell River Kings) Bill Bestwick (Nanaimo Clippers) and Harvey Smyl (Langley Rivermen).
Winners of eight of their last nine starts, the home stretch in the month of February is not going to be an easy road for Penticton.
On Friday the Vees will play the Wenatchee Wild at the SOEC then Saturday night in Chilliwack, against the Mainland Division leading Chiefs in a game Harbinson feels is a must win to put heat on the teams currently nipping at their heels.
“Every week from here on in is going to have the same title; a big weekend,” said Harbinson. “We have six of our last games at home, so hopefully we’ll get good crowds and make it a difficult place for them to play.”
Feb. 8 and 9 Penticton will have a home and away series with rival Vernon Vipers before heading to Trail and back to Penticton Feb. 15 for a critical match with the Centennials.
Langley, Wenatchee and two games against Salmon Arm will wrap up the regular season.
“And then the fun begins,” said Harbinson. “No matter who we meet in the playoffs it’s going to be a formidable first round.”
Win number 500 for the coach could come as early as the Feb. 13 game at the Cominco Arena against the Smoke Eaters.