A championship rivalry that dates back to 1976 will be renewed in Penticton this weekend and the respective bench bosses are well aware of what’s at stake.
The Penticton Vees and Nanaimo Clippers will meet in the Fred Page Cup Finals for the seventh time in B.C. Hockey League history this year, but coaches Fred Harbinson and Colin Birkas aren’t quite ready to get nostalgic about the 40-year-old rivalry.
“In terms of the rivalry, that’s just noise to us,” said Birkas, the head coach of the Clippers. “A lot of the kids on this team have never even played against Penticton. Although it’s historically significant, that hasn’t been a talking point for us.”
The teams last met in the BCHL’s championship series in 2015, when Harbinson, the Vees head coach, led his squad to a Fred Page Cup Finals victory.
Though it was seven years ago, it feels like much longer to the Vees coach, whose only focus is on the present and delivering for the players and fans who have sat through two straight pandemic-riddled seasons.
“This year is different and special,” Harbinson said.
“We’re trying to win for the guys that have had their seasons cancelled. I’ve been fortunate enough to win four (championships) here and be in the final five times, so I know how much the city cares about this team, so we want to give back to them.”
Local representation, meanwhile, is also something that has crossed Birkas’ mind as he gets set to coach in his first-ever Fred Page Cup Finals.
“There is something special brewing here,” the Clippers coach said. “If we could get four more wins, we would have accomplished something really cool for the city of Nanaimo.”
Birkas’ team has yet to lose a game during the 2022 BCHL Playoffs, winning 12 games in a row on route to a finals appearance.
Penticton, though, has also won 12 games in a row. After losing its playoff opener on March 31, Harbinson’s squad has outdone the Trail Smoke Eaters, Prince George Spruce Kings and West Kelowna Warriors in decisive fashion.
It’s bound to be a battle of depth, according to the Clippers head coach, who said his team has yet to play a team like the Vees up until this point.
“Every team has good players, but it’s Penticton’s depth that sets them apart,” Birkas said.
“The kids will get up for Penticton just because they have that label — they’re the New York Yankees of the BCHL. It’s a great opportunity for our guys.”
The series’ first two games will be played at the South Okanagan Events Centre on May 13 and 14, before shifting to Vancouver Island for games three and four on May 17 and 18.