It was a game that meant everything to the Trail Smoke Eaters, and nothing to the Vernon Vipers.
The hometown Smokies scored three times in the second period to beat the Vipers 3-1 in B.C. Hockey League action Friday before 1,889 fans at the Cominco Arena.
The two teams met Saturday at Kal Tire Place to close out the regular season.
The Vipers have secured second place in the Interior Division and a first-round playoff bye.
Trail, going into the final weekend, was in a battle with the West Kelowna Warriors for third place and home-ice advantage in the opening round against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Friday’s win, combined with West Kelowna’s 8-3 loss to the Centennials in Merritt (Vernon’s Brett Jewell scored twice for the Centennials), left Trail alone in third place, two points ahead of the Warriors, who finished the season Saturday in Salmon Arm.
A West Kelowna win and a Trail loss would give the Warriors third place.
Merritt ended its regular season Friday and will finish fifth. The Cents will play Trail or West Kelowna.
The highest remaining seed after the first round will face the pennant-winning Penticton Vees, while the lowest seed remaining gets a date with the Vipers starting March 17.
The Vees went into Chilliwack and shutout the Chiefs 3-0 Friday.
After a scoreless first period, the Smoke Eaters opened the scoring at 8:55 as Kale Howarth notched his 30th of the year on a powerplay. Troy Ring would make it 2-0 with his seventh on the man advantage at 15:05 and Josh Laframboise scored his 25th at 19:31 to give Trail a 3-0 lead entering the third period.
Jimmy Lambert broke Linden Marshall’s shutout bid with his 19th of the year for the Vipers at 8:55.
Marshall finished with 39 saves as Vernon outshot Trail 40-24. Ty Taylor took the loss for the Vipers.
Vernon defenseman Michael Ufberg is the Interior Division’s finalist for the league’s top defenceman award.
Ufberg, a 19-year-old out of Philadelphia, has seven goals and 36 points in 56 games. The slick 5-foot-9, 185-pounder often anchors the powerplay. He is up for the award along with the Island Division’s Jake Stevens of the Victoria Grizzlies and the Mainland Division’s Tyler Anderson of the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Finalists for the Vern Dye Memorial Award as league MVP are Penticton Vees goalie Mat Robson; goalie Matthew Galajda of the Grizzlies and forward Brendan Harris of the Wenatchee Wild.
The finalists from each of the league’s three divisions were decided on by a first-round of voting by league coaches.
Another round of coaches voting will decide the winner for each trophy and the results will be announced before the playoffs begin.
The New York Islanders have signed Viper grad Connor Jones to a one-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contract for the remainder of the 2016-17 season. He has been loaned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Jones, 26, has played 47 games with the Sound Tigers this season, recording 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) and a plus-10 rating. The third-year pro initially signed a professional tryout (PTO) with Bridgeport at the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign and notched 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 51 games with the Sound Tigers last season. In addition, he appeared in three Calder Cup Playoff games with Bridgeport in 2015-16.
Prior to turning pro, Jones played four seasons at Quinnipiac University alongside his twin brother and fellow Sound Tigers forward, Kellen Jones.
The twins helped Vernon win back-to-back Royal Bank Cups in 2009-10.