A perfect playoff record, with a 1.23 goals against average, places the Vernon Vipers among the serious contenders for the Royal Bank Cup national junior A championship.
Vernon became the second British Columbia Hockey League team with an undefeated playoff performance, and the first in 16 years, with its 12th consecutive win April 9, 1-0 on home ice over the defending champion Chilliwack Chiefs.
Matt Zaba led league playoff goalies with a 1.23 goals against average, .955 saves percentage, three shutouts and a 12-0 won-lost record in 729 minutes as Vernon beat the Penticton Panthers, Trail Smoke Eaters and Chilliwack.
Vernon has won nine league championships and is tied for the Canadian Hockey Association record with four national championships.
“We didn’t give up too much during the regular season,” said general manager/coach Mike Vandekamp. “We wanted to create a structure from the start.
“We have a good work ethic and solid team chemistry. We have a team-oriented style. Now it’s automatic for us.”
Vandekamp stresses that the players bought in to the system, before adding “you have to have success from it. Now they believe in it.
“There is a dedication to team play. We have a strong defensive corps and a high level of commitment.” He accentuates that the style is borrowed from the 1980s Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League, with “speed, attack and aggressive forechecking.
“We like to play in the other team’s end,” said Vandekamp.
Zaba, 19, led the league and Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League with a .930 saves percentage in 2,612 minutes during the regular season. He led the league with a 2.21 goals against average and 34-9-0 won-lost-tied record.
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Zaba has a 1.99 goals against average, .935 saves percentage, 46-9-0 won-lost-tied record and five shutouts in 3,341 minutes overall.
“He certainly has done his part,” said Vandekamp. “He has been a big part of it.
“He has made big stops when he had to. He’s steady and a team leader.”
Vandekamp emphasized that Zaba made a point of praising his diligent defencemen and forwards for their efforts after making 14 saves in the championship win.
Vernon was first in the Interior Conference, and overall, with a 47-12-0 record and one overtime loss during the regular season. The Vipers are 59-12-0 and have one overtime loss in 72 games overall, with 165 goals allowed, for a 2.29 goals against average.
Bryan McGregor, 18, is Vernon’s scoring leader. He assumed that position when Curtis Fraser played his last game before the league final, because of National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations, when he celebrated his 21st birthday.
McGregor has 49 goals and 101 points in 70 games overall. He tied for fourth in the league with 44 goals
and was eighth in the league with 90 points in 58 regular-season games.
Justin Bourne, Brent Kisio and Les Reaney are next among Vernon’s scorers with 85, 84 and 81 points, respectively.
Bourne, 20, has 35 goals in 72 games. Kisio, 20, has 27 goals in 71 games and was sixth among league playoff scorers with 18 points, including 11 assists, in 12 playoff games.
Reaney, 18, has 29 goals in 72 games.
“We have depth,” said Vandekamp. “There are lots of heroes every night."Mark Nelson and Andrew Lord joined Kisio among Vernon’s leading scorers in the playoffs, each with seven goals.
Vernon will await the winner of the best-of-seven Alberta Junior Hockey League final between the Camrose Kodiaks and St. Albert Saints before starting the best-of-seven Doyle Cup championship April 18 on home ice.
“We have to show up and play hard,” said Vandekamp, who now has an opportunity to scout the Alberta series.
The Doyle Cup champion will qualify for the Royal Bank Cup championship May 3-11 in Charlottetown, P. E. I.
Please check the CJAHL web site at www.cjahl.com for all your Canadian junior A information