Sports

Overtime seventh heaven for Vipers

Dexter Dancs of the Vernon Vipers battles for the puck against Penticton Vees defender Alex Coulombe Friday night at Kal Tire Place - Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star
Dexter Dancs of the Vernon Vipers battles for the puck against Penticton Vees defender Alex Coulombe Friday night at Kal Tire Place
— image credit: Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

PENTICTON –The third-seeded Vernon Vipers trailed 3-1 in the third period of Game 7 in front of an unruly crowd, imposed their will and wound up in a dogpile, celebrating a series win for the ages.

The Vipers claimed their fourth B.C. Hockey League Interior Division title in the past seven years with a 4-3 win over the Penticton Vees. It is Vernon’s 15th Ryan Hatfield Memorial trophy in franchise history.

The Vipers now advance to the semifinal round-robin along with the Victoria Grizzlies and the Coquitlam Express. The Vipers take on the Grizzlies Friday night at the Q Centre before hosting the Coquitlam Express Sunday, 5 p.m.

Each team will play a home and home series. The top two seeds will advance to the best-of-seven Fred Page Cup.

More than 3,100 people crammed into the South Okanagan Events Centre and witnessed Michael McNicholas’ winner at 2:06 in overtime, etching himself in Viper lore.

“Dylan (Chanter) dumped it in and one of their d-men got it, he turned it over to (Dexter) Dancs. Dancs threw it on net and it bounced right to me and I shot it in, I didn’t even look. It happened pretty fast,” said McNicholas, a California product.

The goal deafened the crowd. Vees fans sank in their seats. Some players watched from a knee on the ice, stunned.

“It’s kind of hard to believe. You put your head down, you don’t really believe that it’s happening. It kind of seems like it’s fake and its not real. The past couple days here its really sunk in, it’s pretty unfortunate,” said Brad McLure.

The Vees’ captain was clearly the biggest clog in his teams engine. The Stratford, Ont. product led all playoff scorers with 10 goals and 21 points.

“It was a great game,” said 21-year-old Vees’ goalie Olivier Mantha, adding that they played hard. “I’m proud to be part of that game, that group of guys. We gave everything we had. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”

Home was not where the heart was in this series, as the road team went 5-2.

Before the heroic overtime performance, there was an improbable comeback.

As they have for most the series, the Vees struck first. Ben Dalpe and Max Cotta worked a pretty give-and-goal 2:43 in the first.

“Our guys were very positive all night long. Even when we were down, the positive talk on the bench was great,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson.

The Vees didn’t hold the lead for long. The Vipers tied it less than 30 seconds after.

The Snakes won the face off and immediately dumped it on Mantha, who let out a juicy rebound. The Vipers were the first on the puck. The shot came from the point and seemed to be deflected on its way to the net. Brett Mulcahy got credit for the goal, from Colton Sparrow and Josh Bryan, 16 seconds after the Vees scored.

Neither team showed signs of fatigue. Both teams came out chucking huge hits. T.J. Dumonceaux wallpapered a Vees’ defender behind their net on the forecheck.

While shorthanded, Dumonceaux raced in alone on Mantha. With the top half of the net looking pretty, Dumonceaux rifled one off the crossbar.

The first was evenly played with each team recording eight shots.

The Vipers’ best chance to take the lead came when Mantha mishandled a puck behind his own net leading to two great scoring chances.

“Both teams came out great I thought. It looked as if the first period was a bit of a feeling out stage,” said Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson.

The Vipers opened up the second frame with an early penalty to Logan Mick for tripping. Shane McColgan had the best chance for Penticton on the powerplay. He sailed the rebound from a blueline blast just wide of the net.

“I thought Smith was outstanding tonight. Yeah, they had three goals but there wasn’t much he could do about the perfect back-door plays they executed,” said Williamson.

Often times, a team’s best penalty-killer is their goalie and Austin Smith was razor sharp for the Vipers.

“I thought Smith was outstanding tonight. Yeah, they had three goals but there wasn’t much he could do about the perfect back-door plays they executed,” said Williamson.

Smith made 23 saves and was terrific on second-chance opportunities.

“My nerves weren’t any higher than they were in Game 6. I just kept trying to play the same way, you don’t want to over think big games.”

Less than a minute into a 4-on-4, the Vees took the lead with a 2-on-1 rush. Cody DePourcq mailed it home from McLure, 5:40 in the second.

The Vees extended their lead before the second expired. Steen Cooper tapped in his fifth of the playoffs on a gorgeous back-door pass from Eric Benoit, rocking the SOEC.

“We knew it was going to be very tough heading into the third period, here, down two goals,” said Williamson.

The Vipers didn’t get the start they hoped for with Brendan Persley taking an elbowing penalty just minutes into the third.

Vernon’s penalty kill unit was superb, killing off all three Vees’ top-ranked powerplays. In the regular season, the Vipers owned the league’s worst powerplay at 14 per cent.

Oddly enough, the Vipers started their comeback on the man advantage as Sparrow brought his boys within one, from McNicholas (BCHL Player-of-the-Week) and d-man Jared Wilson, 7:59 into the third.

Sparrow leads the Snakes with 16 points. His line with Mulcahy and Persley have been white-hot in the playoffs combining for 42 points.

Riding the high off the powerplay goal, Mulcahy tied it in front of the net at 9:12, with his 12th. Sparrow threw the puck on net from the left wall. It never made it as it clanked off a few legs in front right to Mulcahy. Mantha didn’t have a chance to react to the deflected shot before it was too late. The teams exchanged Grade A-scoring chances in the final 10 minutes. Liam Coughlin just missed McNicholas with a pass that would have gave him some great alone time with Mantha.

The Vees nearly had a buzzer-beater as Cooper had the puck fizzle off the heel of his stick on a one-timer.  barely outshot the Vipers 26-25 in regulation, but the Vipers had the only two shots in OT.

It seemed rather fitting that the two teams headed to overtime.

McNicholas was instrumental in both come-from-behind wins in Game 5 and 7.  The winner came at 2:06 in bonus time from Dancs. It was his second point on the night. He was named Monday as the Player-of-the-Week in the BCHL.

 

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