Even with an important playoff battle on the horizon, Penticton Vees head coach, president, and general manager Fred Harbinson had an opportunity to reflect on his storied career after surpassing the 500-win mark in the final game of the regular season.
His group earned it in shutout fashion as well, blanking the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-0 on February 23rd – securing top spot in the Interior Division and the Wally Forslund Trophy for lowest team goals-against-average in the process.
“It’s cool because only three other guys have done it,” Harbinson said in an interview with BCHL.ca. “It’s neat being part of that.”
The other three coaches to surpass the 500-win mark are legends in their own right: Longtime Powell River Kings coach Kent Lewis, Bill Bestwick, who coached multiple teams in the Island Division, and Harvey Smyl of the Chilliwack/Langley Chiefs.
Vees owner and governor Graham Fraser didn’t hire Harbinson himself but after he acquired the franchise, he quickly came to realize the coach shared with him a common vision about where they wanted to take the program and how they would get there.
“Philosophically, we’ve always been on the same page,” said Fraser. “We have high standards to run a very professional program, move kids on to college hockey, have them be active members in the community.
“When those things align, it’s easy to work together. He’s very professional so I don’t have to micro manage him. I just stay out of his way.”
For Harbinson, it isn’t the personal achievements that make his job worthwhile, it’s about the impact that he is able to make on each individual player’s life. His latest milestone served as a nice reminder of the positive influence that he has given to many of his players over the years.
“You can’t win every year but you can impact players every year,” Harbinson explained. “When you have moments like Saturday night you remember that, because of the social media and text messages that I got from former players about things that I helped them with. I’m a parent, I have an 18-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl, and I think it hits harder for me now than when I was starting off as a coach. I realize how impactful us coaches can be.”
Some of those public congratulations shared on social media included former Vees players and current professionals Travis St. Denis of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Michael Garteig of the Newfoundland Growlers.
Although Harbinson doesn’t have a specific milestone in mind as his next goal, he made it very clear that his passion for the game and drive to win are inherent traits. His focus is entirely on the current group of Vees as they head into the 2019 Chevrolet BCHL Playoffs.
“I’m internally driven. It’s not something I’ve had to work on. It’s in me and it’s natural. Every year there is a new group of players that come through here, and I feel an obligation to make better men out of them, not just hockey players. Every day when I get up there is a new bar that I want to set for myself and for the organization.”
A fifth Fred Page Cup during his tenure would sure go a long way raising that bar. His club’s quest begins on Thursday night at home for game one of the playoffs against the Cowichan Valley Capitals.