Fred Harbinson is staying in Penticton and his two superstar prodigies are going to be right there with him.
After considering coaching offers at the NCAA Division 1 and Major Junior hockey levels, Harbinson has committed his immediate future to the Penticton Vees and taking another run at an RBC Cup national Junior-A championship.
Defenceman Dante Fabbro and forward Tyson Jost – both projected as first-round picks in the 2016 National Hockey League Entry Draft – also confirmed they will return to Penticton for the 2015-16 season.
Harbinson said his young family had some opportunities to consider but Penticton was ultimately where they wanted to be.
Helping develop young players like Jost and Fabbro, as well as enjoying the people he works with, the city, the community and its legion of hockey fans ultimately made the decision to stay a logical one for the 43-year-old president, general manager and head coach.
“We’ve got a great owner in Graham Fraser and for now and the future we have plans to keep growing the team and the franchise,” said Harbinson, who still has four years left on a contract extension he signed last year. “We’re in this long-term. Other offers happen but this isn’t a conversation I foresee Graham and I having every year.”
Harbinson acknowledged his family’s home in Heritage Hills is up for sale, a scenario that took on a life of its own on social media in recent weeks.
“We just want to move into town, that’s all,” said Harbinson. “I want to make that clear to everyone.”
Harbinson has enjoyed a wildly successful eight-year tenure with the Vees, including a record-setting season in 2011-12 that concluded with the Vees first RBC Cup national title since 1986. The Vees won BCHL playoff titles in 2008, 2012 and 2015 and this year won the Western Canada Cup for the first time.
Harbinson has been busy getting commitments from some top-end recruits in the recent weeks and believes the team has a good nucleus in place to again take a run at a BCHL title, and ultimately an RBC Cup championship in 2015-16.
“That’s always our goal,” said Harbinson. “We came so close last year. I know we’ve lost a lot of players but the cupboard isn’t as bare as some people might like to believe.”
And with Jost and Fabbro back in the fold, the Vees will be among the early-season contenders.
The 1998-born phenoms were both picked in the first round of the 2013 Western Hockey League bantam draft (Jost 7th by Everett and Fabbro 8th by Seattle), but surprised many by deciding instead to play in Penticton.
Both had terrific seasons for the Vees while also playing for Canadian entries at the World Under-17 Challenge and World Junior ‘A’ Challenge.
“A lot of people assumed they wouldn’t be two-year players for us,” said Harbinson. “We knew they could step in and help as one-year players, then they could evaluate their respective situations from there.
“It’s all about developing young men and players here … the games are only part of the equation. Playing at this level, with this club, it’s a great option and kids like Tyson and Dante see that. Obviously they’re two of the very best returning players in this league and we’re thrilled to have them back.”
Harbinson said he anticipates Jost and Fabbro will be getting a lot of interest from NCAA Division 1 programs this season.
Harbinson, meanwhile, confirmed the Vees are going to put together a bid to host the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup when it’s the BCHL’s turn again in 2016-17. This year’s WCC will be held in Estevan, Sask.
The coach said the Vees are in the early stages of the process and will consult with the league during the BCHL’s annual general meeting this week in Vancouver.
“It’s a big financial endeavour to take this on and it will take a huge commitment by everyone,” said Harbinson. “We’ve got the facility, the infrastructure and the fan base to make the event a great success. The economic spin-off for the community would be quite significant.”