There will be at least one more stop on the Road to the RBC Cup for the Vernon Vipers.
Back in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs for the first time since 2011, the RBC Cup hosts extended their postseason run into the second round, beating the West Kelowna Warriors in six games to set up a meeting with the first-place Penticton Vees in the Interior Division final.
The win over West Kelowna was the first BCHL series victory for Vernon since sweeping Powell River in the 2011 league final for their third consecutive championship.
The Vipers were led in Round 1 by the trio of Brett Mulcahy, Brendan Persley and Colton Sparrow, who combined for 10 goals and 22 points in the six games.
“(Head coach and general manager Jason Williamson) put us together to shut down the other team’s top line,” Persley told the Vernon Morning Star. “We went out there trying to do that and we just starting clicking. In the first game, we kind of got lit up on the power play and then we just decided to bear down. We kind of worked off each other and put the puck in the net and it was nice to see.”
Persley was the surprise offensive leader for the Vipers, racking up four goals and 10 points; he had just six goals and 19 points in 48 regular season games.
“He’s a guy we knew, at this time of year, would be huge,” Williamson told the Morning Star. “He’s a heart and soul guy, he does all the little details, he’s a Viper through and through. He’s agitating to play against, he blocks shots and he’s chipped in offensively.”
Mulcahy, Vernon’s marquee trade deadline acquisition, had a league-high eight goals in the first round, including four in the Vipers’ 6-4 Game 3 victory that gave them the series lead for good.
It was West Kelowna that drew first blood, scoring five power-play goals in a 5-1 victory in Game 1, but the Vipers would rebound with three straight wins to take a 3-1 stranglehold; Mulcahy also had a hat trick in the Game 2, and Sparrow added two goals and an assist in Game 4.
The Warriors staved off elimination with a Game 5 win on home ice, but Austin Smith made 29 saves for the shutout and Persley scored twice in Vernon’s 5-0 victory at the Kal Tire Centre that closed out the series.
Up next for the Vipers are the first-place Vees, who swept the Merritt Centennials in their first-round series.
Penticton won the season series against Vernon, taking four of the seven regular-season meetings – one in overtime – but the Vipers were victorious in the final two meetings in the latter half of February.
“That’s a very good team, very well coached,” Williamson said of the Vees. “Really high offence and some good goaltending. It’s going to be a grind, but I think our group’s up to the challenge. The way we’ve played as of late, even going into the playoffs, I thought we’ve got as good a chance as anybody.”
It’s the first time Vernon and Penticton have met in the BCHL playoffs since 2010, when the Vipers earned the Interior championship with a six-game victory.
VERNON VIPERS VS. PENTICTON VEES
Game 1 – Friday, March 14 – Vernon @ Penticton
Game 2 – Saturday, March 15 – Vernon @ Penticton
Game 3 – Monday, March 17 – Penticton @ Vernon
Game 4 – Tuesday, March 18 – Penticton @ Vernon
*Game 5 – Thursday, March 20 – Vernon @ Penticton
*Game 6 – Friday, March 21 – Penticton @ Vernon
*Game 7 – Saturday, March 22 – Vernon @ Penticton
* if necessary