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Harbinson attending 1st Huskies game in 7 years

GRAND FORKS — Fred Harbinson hasn’t attended a college hockey game since he left St. Cloud State seven years ago.

“It’s very rare to have the chance, especially when you have the schedule we have,” said Harbinson, the former St. Cloud State assistant who is now the head coach and general manager of the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League.

But the Vees have this weekend off and Harbinson is coming to Grand Forks along with his two assistant coaches and the team owner to watch a series that will be special to them.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference matchup between the University of North Dakota and St. Cloud State will feature seven former Penticton Vees who played under Harbinson.

Six of them — UND’s Brendan O’Donnell, Mark MacMillan and Troy Stecher, and St. Cloud State’s Joey Holka, Joey Benik and Garrett Milan — were teammates on the 2010-11 squad. UND’s Wade Murphy joined Penticton the following year and helped the Vees win the Canadian Junior A national title.

“It was just a quirk in the schedule that we had this weekend off and we saw those two teams were playing,” Harbinson said. “What a great way to go and watch a bunch of guys we have a lot of pride in, guys that developed here.

“My two assistants have never been to a college game, so this will be very exciting for them. We have a great relationship with both staffs (at UND and St. Cloud State). We’ve had a lot of players go to college and a lot of them are coming together this weekend.”

They figure to play key roles, too.

O’Donnell and MacMillan, two of UND’s top scorers, are expected to play on the same line — just as they did in Penticton. Benik, who played on their wing at one time, is second on the Huskies with two goals in four games.

Strong history

Penticton is not a new recruiting ground for UND.

Back in 1977-78, coach Gino Gasparini went there and landed four recruits from one team — forward Cary Eades, forward Kevin Maxwell, defenseman Howard Walker and goalie Darren Jensen. Three of them helped UND to the 1980 national championship. Two of them won another national title in 1982.

“A lot of big names have come through Penticton — Brett Hull, Duncan Keith, Paul Kariya,” Harbinson said of three other college hockey and NHL stars.

The former Vees have been communicating during the week.

“It’s kind of crazy thinking about it that there could be seven of us on the ice,” said Stecher, who lived with Milan in Penticton. “This weekend will be kind of special.”

Stecher, last season’s captain in Penticton, said he’s looking forward to seeing his old coaching staff.

“They did a tremendous amount for me to get to this level,” Stecher said. “For them just to come down here is special for me. I will be able just to say ‘thank you’ to them one last time.”

And for the Penticton coaching staff, it will be a chance to relax and enjoy a weekend of hockey.

“I didn’t enjoy many trips there in the past,” Harbinson said with a laugh.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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