The Vernon Vipers will go into Round 2 of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs with just five defencemen.
Rookie sensation Jack Judson was issued a four-game suspension for a hit to the head penalty in Game 4 of the series with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, while hulking Shane Kelly is on injured reserve.
“We’ll go with five for now,” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner. “Kelly will be ready down the road but we’re not sure when. The (Major) Midget teams are just starting playoffs this weekend so we can’t take kids from those teams.”
Vernon hosts the Wenatchee Wild in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series Friday night at Kal Tire Place. Game 2 goes Saturday in Vernon before shifting to Washington State for Tuesday and Wednesday. A fifth game, if required, would go Friday, March 23 in Vernon.
The second-overall Snakes and third-seeded Wild are expected to put on a track meet as two lightning-quick and ultra-talented teams meet for the first time ever in the post-season. Vernon and Wenatchee split the regular-season series with each team posting three home-ice wins. The Vipers outscored the Wild 17-12.
Wenatchee led the 17-team circuit with 241 goals. They gave up 40 more goals than the Vipers. The Wild get prime-time offence from 37-goalmen Jasper Weatherby and captain AJ Vanderbeck. D-man Cooper Zech is also dangerous with 11 goals and 69 points. D Slava Demin, a former Anaheim Jr. Mighty Duck who rang up 45 points, was No. 32 in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings.
Viper centre Brett Stapley was rated No. 146 among North American skaters, while injured Josh Prokop came in at No. 175. Ferner will not tinker with the forward lines he used in the sweep of Salmon Arm.
The regular-season champion Penticton Vees meet the Trail Smoke Eaters, while the Prince George Spruce Kings tangle with the Surrey Eagles and the Victoria Grizzlies go up against the Powell River Kings in other second-round series.
Meanwhile, former Viper D Mitch Oliver has secured a scholarship with the Lake Superior State University Lakers in Sault. Ste. Marie, Mich.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to play NCAA Div-1 hockey at a top-end school like Lake Superior State University,” Oliver, 20, said in a team press release. “They have shown a lot of interest in me as a player and as a person and I can’t wait to be a part of the Lakers program. The university offers great academic options and after forming a strong relationship with the coaching staff, it was clear that Lake Superior State was the right choice for me.”
Oliver, of Kelowna, played four years (two with Vernon) in the BCHL and AJHL, amassing 28 goals and 106 points. He rang up a dozen goals and 39 points with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs this year.
Viper grad Steven Jandric of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks has made the WCHA All-Rookie Team.
The 20-year-old Prince George product compiled 4-19-23 in 36 games this season. The Nanooks finished eighth at 9-17-2-1.
Ferner, meanwhile, says Libby Wray will represent the Vipers as team governor at future league meetings. Libby’s husband, Duncan, who owned the Vipers since 1992, died in his sleep on Jan. 11, his 68th birthday.