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Penticton Vees, Alberni Valley Bulldogs ready to make history in BCHL Finals

‘When you get to the finals, it’s not about upsets, favourites or underdogs,’ said Fred Harbinson
Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ forward Ethan Bono tangles up Penticton Vees defenceman Gabriel Guilbault at the end boards during the second period of the Bulldogs’ BC Hockey League home game on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (KAICEE TROTT/ Special to the AV News)

If there’s any guarantee about this year’s BCHL Finals, it’s that a storybook ending is on its way.

The Penticton Vees are looking to win back-to-back Fred Page Cup titles for the first time in 37 years. They will battle the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a franchise that is making its first-ever finals appearance.

“When I first got here, the Vees hadn’t won since 1986,” recalled Fred Harbinson, the team’s head coach, general manager and president. “We won the finals in 2008 and at the time, I remember the city was hungry for it…I’m sure that’s what Alberni Valley is going through right now.”

Game No. 1 of the fourth-round series goes Friday night, May 12, at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Since Harbinson’s arrival in Penticton, the Vees have won five Fred Page Cup titles.

The team’s bench boss became the all-time BCHL playoff series wins leader (30), following the Vees’ series-clinching victory against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks last Friday, May 5.

Alberni Valley, led behind the bench by former Merritt Centennials coach Joe Martin, is riding high themselves after completing a sweep of the Chilliwack Chiefs en route to their history-making conference title.

“It’s an accomplishment, but it doesn’t feel like one yet,” Martin said. “I have a lot of respect for the opponents that we did play, but it’s the past and here we are moving forward.”

The Bulldogs returned home last week to a large, celebratory crowd outside its bus on Vancouver Island. Games No. 3 and 4 of the finals held in Port Alberni were sold out within a matter of days of tickets going on sale.

“I hope our city isn’t complacent and I don’t think they are…our fans are awesome and we’re going to need everyone’s support here over the next couple of days,” said Harbinson.

Penticton, a team no stranger to being labeled as the “favourties,” posted a league-best 50-3-0-1 during the regular season. They downed Alberni Valley twice in as many games in the process.

Since Christmas, though, the teams ranked No. 1 and 2 in BCHL regular-season play.

“When you get to the finals, it’s not about upsets, favourites or underdogs,” Harbinson said. “The two best teams are playing in the finals and that’s good for our league.”

After the first two games of the series in Penticton on Friday and Saturday, the finals will shift to Vancouver Island for the third and fourth games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

READ MORE: Penticton Vees’ coach makes BCHL history