BCHL PLAYOFFS – Vipers one win away from league final

Vernon's Sahir Gill (front) tries to elude the Vees' Beau Bennett during Game 4 of the BCHL Interior Conference final Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.

Bryce Kakoske collected his first two goals of the post-season and netminder Graeme Gordon posted his fourth shutout in six games to lead the Vernon Vipers to a 5-0 win over the host Penticton Vees in Game 4 of the B.C. Hockey League Interior Conference final Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

The Vipers now have a 3-1 stranglehold on the best-of-seven series, which they will look finish Friday night at Wesbild Centre. If necessary, Game 6 would go Saturday in Penticton, and Game 7 would return to Wesbild (all games 7 p.m.).

Despite the lopsided score, the Vipers didn’t play their best hockey before 2,171 fans Wednesday night. Both teams looked nervous early on, making uncharacteristic turnovers. Vernon did, however, make Penticton pay for a lack of discipline by going 3-for-7 on the powerplay, handing the Vees their first home loss of the playoffs. They even managed to score once shorthanded on a sensational solo effort by Mike Collins midway through the third period. After winning a foot race to a loose puck in the neutral zone, the Boston product faked out a Penticton defender with a time-bending toe drag before beating netminder Sean Bonar with a high backhand.

Both goalies were tested early as Vernon’s Connor Jones tried a one-handed poke at a loose puck to beat Bonar (23 saves), but hit the post in the first minute. Half a minute later, Gordon (21 saves) had trouble handling Matt Paltridge’s shot from inside the blueline, with the puck trickling dangerously through the crease.

Jonathan Milhouse, who assisted both of Kakoske’s goals to earn second star, set up the first one by dancing around defenceman Joey Laleggia before feeding his linemate for a one-timer from the slot at 7:31 of the first period.

Early in the second period, Milhouse fired on net from the sidewall, with Kakoske redirecting it five-hole.

Penticton responded with two minutes of solid pressure in Vernon’s end after Gordon (third star) made a superb diving save to rob Garrett Milan on his doorstep. The veteran keeper lost his stick in the process and had to play with Adam Thompson’s blade because Vernon couldn’t clear the zone.

Thompson made it 3-0 Vernon when his point shot appeared to deflect in off Paltridge midway through the second frame.

Cole Ikkala, batting the rebound out of mid-air from Stevie Weinstein’s point shot, capped Vernon’s scoring.

Meanwhile, in the Coastal Conference final, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs hold a 3-1 series lead over the Powell River Kings. The two clubs collide for Game 5 Thursday night at Weyerhauser Arena in Port Alberni.

Check out the sports section in the Friday edition of the Morning Star for a full recap of Game 4.