Vernon Vipers’ forward Michael McNicholas cashed in on a loose puck in front of Vees goalie Olivier Mantha, who was beat five-hole for the 4-3 overtime winner.
“(Dexter) Dancs turned it over and he just kind of threw it to the net, it hit their goalie and came out right to me,” said McNicholas of the play. “I just shot it in. Didn’t even look. It happened pretty fast.”
McNicholas, a California product, was Monday named the BCHL Player-of-the-Week. He was chosen first star in Game 7 and he assisted on the Vipers’ second goal of the game. He also had 1+2 in the Vipers’ dramatic 3-2 Game 5 win.
Vernon now joins the Victoria Grizzles and Coquitlam Express in a round-robin, home and home format which will decide the finalists for the best-of-seven Fred Page Cup series., The Vipers visit the Grizzlies Friday night and host the Express Sunday at 5 p.m.
After the OT goal, the Vipers exploded onto the ice in front of 3,142 fans. As the Vipers celebrated, Miska, Cody DePourcq, Chris Rygus and Max Coatta were down on a knee together, in disbelief.
Manta said he didn’t see the shot with a player in front of him, and was just disappointed.
“It was a great game,” said Mantha, adding that they played hard. “I’m proud to be part of that game, that group of guys. We gave everything we had. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
The teams traded goals in the first period as Ben Dalpe opened the scoring 2:43 in with assists going to Coatta and Travis Blanleil. The Vipers replied 16 seconds later on a goal by Brett Mulcahy, his 11th of the post-season.
In the second period, the Vees scored 5:40 in a Brad McClure fed Cody DePourcq on 4-on-4 play to beat Vipers goalie Austin Smith. The Vees added to their lead when Steen Cooper finished off a play by Erik Benoit who skated into the slot and dished the puck off to Cooper who beat a diving Smith.
In the third period, Vipers forward Brendan Persley was sent off for elbowing, giving the Vees a chance to put away the game. Benoit came inches from burying a chance to make it 4-1 that developed behind the net as his shot just went wide with Smith out of position.
After that the Vipers clawed back in and got their own goal on the power-play from Colton Sparrow, who chipped the puck over Mantha’s shoulder to make it 3-2. Mulcahy then got the equalizer just over a minute later. Sparrow leads the Vipers in playoff scoring with six goals and 16 points. Mulcahy has 14 points and Persley has 14, giving that line 42 points.
Vees’ coach Fred Harbinson said his players gave everything they had.
“Obviously we had the 3-1 lead going into the third, but I didn’t think we sat back,” said Harbinson. “They got a power-play goal, we almost had one just before that. On the powerplay we didn’t score, gave them momentum and then they got a bounce to tie it and then a bounce in overtime.
“You have to give them credit, they didn’t quit when it was 3-1,” continued Harbinson. “I think we got a lot out of this group.”
The shot total was 27-26 Vipers, including 2-0 in overtime.