It’s like the old adage.
“Yeah, if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it,” said Penticton Vees head coach Fred Harbinson.
Three consecutive wins over the Chilliwack Chiefs in the BCHL Fred Page Cup final and the Vees are 60 minutes away from earning the title of league champions.
The winning formula? A combo of affiliate players, fresh legs and teenagers taking advantage of the cracking the tough as superglue lineup the Vees have.
That includes 15-year-old Massimo Rizzo and AP Cassidy Bowes. In those wins, the duo have played a role in either scoring equalizers or have dished out assists.
“You don’t want to make comparisons but he is in that same Tyson Jost level as far as his hockey sense and his offensive ability. It is going to be exciting to coach him over the next couple of years,” said Harbinson of the 15-year-old Rizzo.
The stink of desperation should hang heavier than cow manure in Chilliwack when the Vees head there for Game 5 on Saturday. Prospera Place could be where the Penticton Vees will either hoist the Fred Page Cup, or the Chiefs will start digging out of the 3-1 hole they find themselves in this series.
“You have got to win four games. We preached that at the beginning of the playoffs when we were in this position against Merritt 3-1 and we ended up having to go to seven games,” said Harbinson. “We need to go out and play our best hockey. If we win great, we get to hoist the trophy. If we don’t, they are going to have to find a way to do it in the next game.”
But this was supposed to a cakewalk right? I mean the Vees have already earned their place at the Western Canada Cup as the hosts. Easy-peasy. For that matter, so have the Chiefs who will also represent the BCHL at the WCC starting on April 29. Pfft, even better.
“Ha,” guffed Vees captain Nicholas Jones. “That isn’t the way we look at here. We want to win three banners. We want the BCHL, Western Canada Cup and then the RBC (nationals).”
Automatic entry as the host of the WCC, where they will play the champions from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, doesn’t mean they want to walk past the lineup with their VIP pass, saunter through the South Okanagan Events Centre and wave at other teams through the window as they pound at the door to get in.
“This is one step for us and it was a huge goal of ours to be in this finals since the beginning of the year. We want to go through the front door and that is what we plan to do,” said a determined Jones.
Stitches, tattooed with bruises from blocking pucks — proves it has been very much the opposite of easy. It has been a long run.
“I think … it gets you battle tested and gives you the experiences you need to get through some of these different moments,” said Harbinson.
Jones has quarterbacked this team when he is out on the ice, producing six points in over four games in the BCHL final. On the other side, the Chiefs have the playoff goalscoring leader in Jordan Kawaguchi, with nine points in the pat four games. Crafty, sneaky whatever you want to call them the pair always seem to find open ice, an unmanned post, a gaping cage waiting for them to fill it up with the puck. At the same time they are going head-to-head, when one hits the ice for a shift the other is bound to be hopping over the boards too.
“Certainly this series they have had one hell of a top line over there, and we are trying to counterattack that,” said Jones.
The Vees have a 3-1 series lead into Chilliwack for Game Five of the Fred Page Cup on Saturday, April 22, at 7 p.m. Game 6, if necessary, will be played at the SOEC on Monday, April 24 at 7 p.m. and Game 7, if necessary, will be back in Chilliwack on April 25.