Vipers face Cents in opening series

It has been 13 years since the Vernon Vipers met the Merritt Centennials in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

It has been 13 years since the Vernon Vipers met the Merritt Centennials in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

History  favours the Vipers. They have won all six playoff series with the Cents and took five of seven regular-season tilts this year.

In their most recent meeting, on Jan. 28 in Merritt, the Vipers edged the Cents 4-3.

“It has the potential to be a great series,” said Merritt head coach Luke Pierce. “Our two teams match up well — both pretty honest and respectable hard-working groups.”

Pierce, 31, has led the Cents to six straight playoff appearances while building a solid program. He played three years in the BCHL, two with the Cents and one with the Vipers before spending five years at Royal Military College on a scholarship.

The Vipers finished second in the Interior Division at 36-18-1-3 for 76 points, while the Cents were 10 points back in third.

Game 1 in the best-of-seven division semifinal series went Tuesday night in Vernon. Game 2 goes tonight, also at Kal Tire Place.

“You know what you’re getting from Luke’s team,” said Viper assistant coach Kevin Kraus. “They’re an honest, hard working team and will be a good test for our team. The teams haven’t met in the playoffs for a long time so look for a rivalry to start now.”

The Vipers were third overall in the 16-team league and are relatively healthy entering the post-season.

Forward Nicholas Rasovic is day-to-day with a bruised hip, while top defenceman Luke Shiplo was a game-time decision Tuesday with a sore neck after taking a high hit from behind from Salmon Arm’s  Shane Danyluk a week ago Saturday.

Winger Luke Voltin is off injured reserve and ready to play.

The Cents, like the Vipers, stress defence first. Their leading scorer is New Yorker John Schiavo with 30 goals and 64 points. Rookie Liam Finlay took the Vipers’ top pointgetter trophy with 21 snipes and 64 points.

Pierce will look to captain Sam Johnson, of Okotoks, Alta., for grit and moxy.

“He’s the most valuable guy most nights,” said Pierce. “He’s just always going to do the right things. He inspires our bench and dressing room. I’m really excited for a guy like that — knowing how much he’s wanted it and being a 20-year-old.”

League awards announced Monday are as follows:

Vern Dye Memorial Trophy – Most Valuable Player: Corey Mackin, Coquitlam Express

Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy – Rookie of the Year: Brett Supinski, Coquitlam Express

Top Defenceman Award: Andrew Farny, Salmon Arm Silverbacks

Bob Fenton Trophy – Most Sportsmanlike Player: Schiavo.

Joe Tennant Memorial Trophy – Coach of the Year: Jason Tatarnic, Chilliwack Chiefs