Well, that was fun.
It took seven games – and an extra 2:06 – but the Vernon Vipers are Interior Division champions and headed to the B.C. Hockey League’s new semifinal round robin after knocking off the Penticton Vees for the division crown.
Michael McNicholas’ goal 2:06 into overtime of Game 7 capped off a wild series that saw the road team win five of the seven games and the 2014 RBC Cup hosts erase a two-goal deficit in the third period of the final game to advance.
“(Dexter) Dancs turned it over and he just kind of threw it to the net, it hit their goalie and came out right to me,” McNicholas told the Penticton Western News of the extra-time winner. “I just shot it in. Didn't even look. It happened pretty fast.”
After recording just two points in Vernon’s six-game win over West Kelowna in the first round, McNicholas exploded for 11 points against the Vees, scoring four times and adding seven assists in seven games.
Colton Sparrow, one of two Vipers remaining from the team’s last RBC Cup appearance in 2011, had three points in Game 7 and posted seven in the series; he leads Vernon in scoring through two rounds with 16 points in 13 games.
The teams split the first four games with a home and away win apiece; Vernon opened with a victory in Penticton, the Vees took the next two and the Vipers squared the series at 2-2 with a win at Kal Tire Place in Game 4.
Led by two goals and an assist from Liam Coughlin, Vernon regained home-ice advantage with a 3-2 win in Game 5 in Penticton, but the Vees took it right back and forced a Game 7 by blanking the Vipers 2-0 in Game 6.
In Game 7, Penticton scored the all-important first goal just 2:43 in, but Brett Mulcahy tied it 16 seconds later.
A pair of second-period goals from the Vees sent the hosts to the dressing room with a two-goal advantage after 40 minutes, just one period from ending the Vipers’ BCHL championship hopes.
But Sparrow converted on a Vernon power play at 7:59, and Mulcahy tied the game just 73 seconds later to force overtime, leading to McNicholas’ winner.
Mulcahy finished the Penticton series with four goals, giving him a league-leading 12 through two rounds.
Vernon will now face the Coquitlam Express, champions of the Mainland Division, and Victoria Grizzlies, Island Division titlists, in the semifinal round robin. Each team will play a home and away game against the other, with the top two teams facing off in a best-of-seven series for the BCHL championship.
VERNON VIPERS VS. VICTORIA GRIZZLIES VS. COQUITLAM EXPRESS
Game 1 – Friday, March 28 – Vernon @ Victoria
Game 2 – Sunday, March 30 – Coquitlam @ Vernon
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 1 – Victoria @ Coquitlam
Game 4 – Thursday, April 3 – Coquitlam @ Victoria
Game 5 – Saturday, April 5 – Victoria @ Vernon
Game 6 – Monday, April 7 – Vernon @ Coquitlam
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.