For the eighth time in their histories, the Vernon Vipers and Trail Smoke Eaters meet in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
The Vipers hold a 5-2 series edge as they get set to host the Smokies in Games 1 and 2 of the Interior Conference semifinal Friday and Saturday at Kal Tire Place. Both games start at 7 p.m.
The two teams last met in the post-season in 2016-17, when Vernon dispatched Trail in five games in a best-of-seven series. Vernon also scored wins in 1997, 2003, 2007 and 2008. The Smoke Eaters eliminated Vernon in 1998 and 2004.
This year, Vernon beat Trail in four of six regular-season meetings, the last coming at Cominco Arena Feb. 1, when Vernon scored five times in the third period for a 6-3 decision.
The other five games were played before Christmas, with Vernon shutting out Trail twice at home, 4-0 and 1-0 (current Vipers starting goalie Aidan Porter had one of the two shutouts), and scoring a 3-2 win in Trail. The Smoke Eaters beat Vernon 3-1 Sept. 15 at Kal Tire Place and 3-2 in Trail Nov. 14.
The series will mark the return to his Vernon hometown of Trail defenceman Powell Connor, who helped the Chilliwack Chiefs win the Royal Bank Cup last year.
Connor had one goal and three assists in 18 games for the Chiefs this season before he was dealt to Trail. Connor has collected 1-6-7 in 29 regular-season games with the Smoke Eaters and has added four assists in the playoffs.
Trail entered the playoffs as the seventh-seed in the Interior, then surprised the second-ranked Merritt Centennials in five games in the opening round.
Vernon, the fourth-seed, dispatched the fifth-ranked Salmon Arm Silverbacks in five games, though three of the games went into overtime (including the three-overtime, four-and-a-half hour marathon clincher in Game 5), and four of the five games were decided by one goal.
Games 3 and 4 will be Tuesday and Wednesday in Trail. Game 5, if necessary, would be Friday, March 22, in Vernon with the two teams heading to Trail for Game 6 if needed the next night. Should the series go seven games, the deciding contest would be played in Vernon Monday, March 25.
The other three BCHL series also get underway Friday. The other Interior Conference semifinal has the upstart Cowichan Valley Capitals visiting the Wenatchee Wild. The Power River Kings visit the Victoria Grizzlies in the Island Division opener, and the Chiefs entertain the Prince George Spruce Kings in the Mainland Division series.