Vernon minor hockey grad and retired NHLer Brent Gilchrist was there to drop the puck at the official pre-game ceremony as fans and former players and coaches bid farewell to the weary and worn Civic Arena Saturday night.
Gilchrist, who was wearing his Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup ring, joined a prestigious group of past Civic Arena greats on the red carpet moments before the Vernon Vipers and Prince George Spruce Kings played the final Junior A hockey game at the facility, originally built for $50,000 and pegged for demolition in coming months.
Former NHLers Jerred Smithson, an assistant coach with the Vipers, Eddie Johnstone, who coached the Vernon Lakers to back-to-back Centennial Cups, Aaron Volpatti, Sandy Moger and Eric Godard, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, were also introduced to an overflow crowd of 2,011 who showed up on retro night, almost 80 years to the day the Vancouver Lions and Spokane Clippers and a fast skating revue opened the arena.
Recording artist Andrew Allen sang the national anthem and the feel-good vibes soaring around the tiny rink heated up as two teams with track meet wheels went at one another hard with the Spruce Kings posting a 3-2 victory. Jarod Hovde’s controversial goal with 85 seconds left in the middle stanza will go down in history as the final B.C. Hockey League snipe at Civic.
“Unfortunately, Prince George played a great game and spoiled our party here in Vernon,” said Gilchrist, who won a Pee Wee AAA provincial championship for his hometown. “It’s a pretty special place. I was looking around saying, for 80 years, the old girl looks in pretty good shape, Like an old hockey player, your time comes. It’s sad to see it go, but a lot of memories.”
Dean Francks of North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society, who had 36 employees join scores of Viper volunteers to make things run smoothly in tight quarters, said the eent raised $23,000. A jersey, signed by the local ex-NHLers and Junior stars, fetched $1,800 at a post-game live auction at the Naked Pig. Val Trevis of Nixon Wenger Lawyers purchased the sweater.
The goal judge turned on the red light as the puck seemed to hover on the goal-line behind Vernon net detective Ty Taylor. Referee Kevin Crowell waived off the goal. Once play stopped, the four officials discussed the play and determined it was a good goal. Hovde has 10 on the season.
“I’m disapointed that we didn’t get the two points,” said Vernon head coach Mark Ferner. “What an atmosphere, what an event Dean Francks orchestrated. The very disappinting thing is we didn’t play a complete 60-minute game but I thought we did a lot of real good things.”
Ferner said the explanation to overrule Hovde’s non-goal made no sense to him.
“Crowell, who was the ref making the call, didn’t see the puck go in the net and it didn’t go in the net when he did see it when it dropped. The other three (officials), in their wisdom, said it hit the back bar. It’s disappointing two good teams played real hard and the other four who were involved maybe didn’t have the best night.”
Ethan de Jong, shorthnded, at 11:13, for Prince George, and Jagger Williamson, four minutes later on a powerplay, for Vernon, swapped first-period tallies before Niko Karamanis finished a bang-bang play with Keyvan Mohktari right in the crease to make it 2-1 Snakes with 16 seconds left in the session.
Ben Brar equalized on a powerplay at 7:40 of the second period. Brar bagged his 18th of the season just as Williamson was exiting the penalty box.
Prince George improved to 21-12-3-4 to take over first place in the Mainland Division. Vernon, who wore replica Vancouver Lions jerseys, dipped to 27-9-1-4 atop the Interior.
The Vipers outshot the Spruce Kings 44-31 with Prince George goalie Evan DeBrouwer earning first star. Jesse Lansdell was the Vipers’ Fortis Energy Player of the Game. The Vipers pulled Taylor (16-3) for sixth attacker and pressured hard for the equalizer with Jimmy Lambert getting stoned by DeBrouwer from five feet.
“It was a fun game to play in,” said Lambert, an alternate captain. “It was definitely a different style. I can definitely tell you I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that so it was definitely special.”
An Ontario product, DeBrouwer went to 17-10. He said the Spruce Kings fed off the energy in the pre-game warmup and the rest of the night. The Spruce Kings play on a postage-stamp sized rink as well.
“It’s (Civic) a little smaller but the same shape,” said DeBrouwer, who turns 21 at the end of January. “I actually think it really helped us a lot. The atmosphere was amazing. Even thought it’s not for you, it’s still exciting.”
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder gave props to his teammates for allowing him to see pucks flying in the pinball-machine like arena.
“The guys did a good job getting out of the way in front of me, and in a small rink like this, pucks are coming really fast and puck tracking has to be on its game.”
Added Lansdell: “I thought the crowd was great; they definitely helped us out there. We had a good effort but the execution wasn’t there and we lost the game because of it. He (DeBrouwer) definitely helped them win. They’re used to playing in a rink this size and not playing in Kal Tire Place did affect some of our guys. We need to bear down on our chances, and if we do that, we win the game.”
Also on the red carpet and deserving of applause as Vernon celebrated the franchise’s ancestral home, were longtime Viper owner Duncan Wray, Odie Lowe, 90, who helped the Vernon Canadians win the 1956 Allan Cup and coached the BCJHL Essos for several years at Civic, his son Terry, who won a BCJHL scoring title in the 1978-79 season, Troy Mick, who guided the 1999 Vipers to the Royal Bank Cup title, Duane Dennis, a forward with the 1990 Centennial Cup champion Lakers, Dennis Holland, a minor hockey grad who was dynamite in the WHL and AHL, and Gary Gilchrist, an all-star with the Vernon Vikings who went on to excel with the Medicine Hat Tigers.