For the first time in three years, playoff hockey is back in Vernon; the Vipers opened the 2014 B.C. Hockey League playoffs Tuesday night against the West Kelowna Warriors.
It marked Vernon’s first postseason game since the championship game at the 2011 RBC Cup – a 2-0 loss to the Pembroke Lumber Kings in Camrose, Alta. – which marked the Vipers’ third consecutive appearance in the national final.
“It’s playoff hockey so you have to be prepared,” Vipers head coach Jason Williamson told the Vernon Morning Star. “The tempo’s gonna ramp up and so is the intensity.”
It was a given hockey would be played in Vernon past the end of the regular season, since the Vipers are hosting the RBC Cup, Canada’s National Junior A Championship, from May 10-18, but the Vipers want to go in through the front door, and step one was ending the team’s two-year playoff drought.
Two years may not seem like much, but Vernon had not been on the outside of the playoff picture looking in in back-to-back seasons since the 1980-81 and 1981-82 campaigns.
The Vipers wrapped up their postseason berth thanks to a season-high five-game winning streak from Feb. 12-22, but dropped their final two regular season games to the two teams that finished behind them in the Interior Division standings, Merritt and Trail.
“We’d like to have finished better, but you have to have short memories,” Williamson told the Morning Star. “We had a good run and once we clinched a playoff spot, we may have let down and had a mental lapse.”
When the dust settled, Vernon was the No. 3 team in the Interior Division and had the BCHL’s seventh-best record, winning 30 times in 58 games, thanks in large part to its success on home ice; the Vipers were 17-6-3-3 as the host in 2013-14, tied for the second-fewest regulation-time losses in the league.
Michael McNicholas (69 points) and Dexter Dancs (67 points) led the way offensively, finishing sixth and seventh, respectively, in BCHL scoring, and the Vipers as a team scored 187 goals, good for 10th in the 16-team league.
Looking for the city’s 13th league championship, the Vipers first must get past the Warriors, who are led by head coach Rylan Ferster, a Centennial Cup champion with Vernon in 1990.
“We certainly know who we’re playing,” Ferster told the West Kelowna team website. “We’re playing a team that is big and physical. They are built for this, they are built for a championship and they’re hosting a championship. I’m sure they will be chomping at the bit to get going.”
Despite finishing eight points behind the Warriors in the final standings, Vernon had a winning record against its first-round opponent; the Vipers posted a 4-2-1 (W-L-T) mark against West Kelowna, including three wins and a tie on home ice.
VERNON VIPERS VS. WEST KELOWNA WARRIORS
Game 1 – Tuesday, March 4 – Vernon @ West Kelowna
Game 2 – Wednesday, March 5 – Vernon @ West Kelowna
Game 3 – Friday, March 7 – West Kelowna @ Vernon
Game 4 – Saturday, March 8 – West Kelowna @ Vernon
*Game 5 – Monday, March 10 – Vernon @ West Kelowna
*Game 6 – Tuesday, March 11 – West Kelowna @ Vernon
*Game 7 – Wednesday, March 12 – Vernon @ West Kelowna
* if necessary
Follow the British Columbia Hockey League playoffs at www.bchl.ca, or follow the nation-wide Road to the RBC Cup at www.hockeycanada.ca/rbccup.