Morning Star Staff
On paper, it looked like a slamdunk sweep for the Kelowna Rockets.
The Vernon Watkin Motors Mustangs ignored the stats and took Kelowna to the limit in the Okanagan Mainline Pee Wee Tier 1 Hockey League best-of-three final series.
Jack Finley scored 3:17 into sudden-death overtime Sunday as the Rockets clipped the Mustangs 1-0 in Game 3 at Memorial Arena. The Rockets advance to the provincials, March 15-18, in White Rock.
Riley Fiddler-Schultz and Tanner Brown drew assists with a stellar Tristan Bjarnason earning the shutout.
Vernon goalie Kobe Grant was spectacular as the Rockets enjoyed the majority of play.
“Kobe played to win,” said Mustang captain Coletyn Boyarski. “He showed up and battled hard for all three playoff games. Kobe was definitely the MVP of the series. Kobe made some unbelievable saves that motivated all of us to push harder.”
Grant didn’t let the playoff implications change his mind-set at all.
“Once I get focused, I don’t find it hard to stay focused,” he said. “I just think of it as any other game and there is no pressure. My dee blocked what they could and the forwards did a pretty good job getting back hard.”
Kelowna won the regular-season pennant at 10-2-3, while Vernon was last at 2-10-3 yet Grant wasn’t buying the underdog tag.
“I think that we pushed really hard as a team and as individuals to win the series and go to provincials,” said Grant. “I never felt we were underdogs, I just felt like if we played our best we could beat any team in our league.
Boyarski gave props to the coaching staff and a policemen/military leadership speaker for the team’s late-season rise.
“Coaching was key, line matching against Kelowna to shut down their high scoring line. Our defence battled, blocking shots and keeping their scoring chances to a minimum. I believe our improvement started with Sergeant (Sean) Bacon who gave us the confidence and the motivation to push to higher limits. Coach Dean (McAmmond) built on that foundation, pushing us in the practices and games leading up to the final series.”
The Vernon Valley Wood Remanufacturing Vipers lost 6-4 to the host Kelowna Chiefs in the Okanagan Atom A semifinal playoffs Sunday morning
After falling behind 3-1 early, the sixth-seeded Vipers rebounded to level the score at 4-4 with eight minutes remaining. The Chiefs produced two late goals to advance.
Austin Roest, Bennett Kuhnlein, Liam Leibel and Erik Pastro handled the Vernon offence. Austin Seibel suffered the loss after relieving Colten Colmorgen.
“I am very proud of the effort the Vipers showed this past weekend,” said Viper head Coach Trevor Seibel. “Over the past two months the boys really gelled and became a team. We fell just short of our ultimate goal but the boys can be proud of their efforts this season.”
The Vipers surprised the the first-place Kamloops Nailers 5-2 in their opener, getting two snipes, including the winner, from Roest. Pastro, Kuhnlein and Cash Anderson added singles in support of Seibel.
Valley Wood then smothered the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 8-2 with Roest pulling the hat trick and Nick Noren ringing up a deuce.
Jace Weir and Kuhnlein each pocketed 1+2 and Pastro also scored in support of Colmorgen.
After a very short break, the Vipers bowed 3-0 to the second-place Kamloops Ice Hawks.
A defensive zone turnover led to the first Ice Hawks goal with nine minutes to play. The Vipers then surrendered two powerplay goals in the last five minutes. Seibel was bold in suffering the loss.
The Nixon Wenger Pee Wee Tier 2 Vipers lost 6-5 to a Tier 2/3 Kelowna team before grounding the Kelowna Pee Wee AAA females 9-1 in exhibition play.
Liam Remple, Anne Cherkowski, Emma Elders, Isaac Thomas put the Vipers up 4-3 and Porter Trevelyan, with the late 5-5 equalizer handled the Viper scoring in the loss.
The visitors jumped on a bad bounce and got the winner with 43 seconds left.
Ronac Chauhan and Jacob Green each produced hat tricks, while Jakob Jones (2) and Porter Trevelyan completed the offence. Jordyn Morris had two helpers.
Coach Robert Spraggs recognized the fantastic contributions from Scott Flood, Jeremy Silzer and Prentice Swiscoski as the biggest reason for the team’s amazing development.
Player awards were given out after the final game with Jones earning MVP, Elders and Marlea Best sharing the Most Sportsmanlike Player award and Maisun Ang-Hamilton taking home the Most Improved Player.