Vernon Vipers miss BCHL postseason
A gutsy overtime win wasn’t enough to keep the Vernon Vipers’ playoffs hopes alive Friday night in Prince George.
The Snakes will miss the B.C. Hockey League playoffs for the second consecutive year, despite grounding the host Spruce Kings 5-4 in extra time in front of 1,100 fans at the Coliseum.
The Salmon Arm SilverBacks, who occupy the fourth and final Interior Division playoff spot, officially eliminated Vernon with a 6-5 OT win over the host Powell River Kings Friday night on the Sunshine Coast.
The race for fourth place is now down to the ‘Backs (23-23-2-4) and fifth-place Trail Smoke Eaters (25-27-0-2). The Smokies have won four straight games, including back-to-back OT wins over the first-place Penticton Vees (34-14-0-5), but they have played two more games than Salmon Arm.
The Vipers’ lodgings in Quesnel looked more like an infirmary than a hotel Friday night. D-man Ryan Renz and forward Logan Mick stayed behind with the flu, while Dexter Dancs (knee) and Geoff Crisfield (suspended) also missed the remaining journey to Prince George.
It left Vernon with nine forwards and five defencemen. Netminder Danny Todosychuk was supposed to start, but got hurt in warmup, so Austin Smith got the nod.
“The post-games and pre-games (meals) were the cheapest we ever had,” chuckled Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson, who was impressed with the team effort to get the game to double-overtime.
Brendan Persley, with his second goal of the night (5th and 6th), netted the winner on a highlight-reel snipe in the final minute. Rushing up his off wing, the Kelowna product faked a pass, toe dragged around a Prince George d-man, faked a shot then picked the top corner on netminder Kirk Thompson (28 saves).
“Bittersweet win,” said Williamson. “All the dee were very good with the five we had playing. It was one of those character wins you can build on going forward.
“The fans and everybody around the game sees the team has a different attitude. They don’t quit.”
On missing the playoffs, Williamson added: “We put ourselves in a deep hole. They knew it would have been tough.”
First-period goals by Andrew Tegeler (5th) and Mason Blacklock (18th) pegged Vernon to a 2-1 lead at the intermission. Justin Rai (11th) scored for Prince George on a man advantage.
Shayne Morrisey (18th) pulled the 24-20-1-8 Spruce Kings even early in the second frame, but Persley restored Vernon’s lead by burying the rebound off a Michael Statchuk point shot at 3:08.
Prince George earned its first lead on goals just over a minute apart by Lyndon Martell (11th) and Jace Hennig (5th). Former Viper d-man Kevin Guiltinan drew a helper on Martell’s goal.
Mason Blacklock’s team-leading 19th goal late in the second period sent the game to OT.
The Vipers return to action Wednesday night when they visit the second-place Merritt Centennials (31-15-3-3) at Nicola Valley Arena. They wrap up their season with a pair of homes games, starting with the Vees Friday night at Wesbild Centre, followed by a date with the Cents Saturday.
Vernon potentially has eight 20-year-olds returning for next season (league limit is six), and the team is also owed future considerations for the deals they made at the carding deadline in January. Williamson said the competition for roster spots will be intense as the Vipers are hosting the 2014 RBC Cup national championships.
“Do the math,” he said. “They have to put a good effort in my mind heading into summer. They don’t want to leave a poor image in my head when I go to build a team for next season.”
In other BCHL action Friday night, Valek Chichkin fired the winner as the Smokies iced the host Vees 3-2 in OT to start a weekend home-and-home set at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Tyler Berkholtz and second star Garrett McMullen collected powerplay goals in regulation for Trail (they went 2-for-3 on the man advantage).
Wade Murphy and third start Michael Rebry answered for the Vees.
Trail tender Adam Todd recorded 31 saves for first star, while Vees’ keeper Chad Katunar had 21 stops.
The teams met again Saturday at Cominco Arena and will play one another for the fourth straight game when they conclude the regular season next Sunday in the Kootenays.
Should the Smoke Eaters gain a playoff berth, they would have to face Penticton in a 1-versus-4 first-round matchup, meaning will end up playing one another a minimum of eight straight times.
Vernon products Alex Gillies and Alex Jewell each scored once as the SilverBacks bounced Powell River in OT.
Steve Iacobellis finished with four points (2+2) for the Gorillas.
Ex-Viper Landon Robin earned a single for the Kings. The Saskatoon native has 10 points (3-7) in 47 games.