Vipers’ forward Jagger Williamson awaits a pass as Silverbacks’ defenceman Akito Hirose trails just behind in BCHL playoff action Tuesday night at the Shaw Centre. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Vipers take commanding series lead

Vernon beats Salmon Arm 4-2 to take 3-0 lead in BCHL Divisional Semifinal

One more win and the Vernon Vipers go to the next round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

One more loss and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks go home.

The Vipers took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Interior Division semifinal Tuesday with a 4-2 win in front of 779 fans at the Shaw Centre in Salmon Arm.

Game 4 goes Wednesday in the Shuswap.

Kyle Dumba got the start in goal for Salmon Arm, replacing Reid Cooper who opened the first two games in Vernon, though was pulled early in the second period of Game 2.

Dumba was greeted by Vipers sniper Derek Brown, who scored his third of the series 12 seconds after the national anthem, and added his fourth at 18:35 to give Vernon a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

“Brownie is on fire,” said Viper captain and first star Jagger Williamson (1+2). “It was a broken-down play and we know Dumba likes to go down so he shot it up high. I just heard it go in. We brought him (Brown) in to score goals and he’s doing the job. He has a great release and he loves to score goals. The talk around the room is ‘Get the puck to (No. 9) niner.’”

The Vipers acquired Brown in a trade with the Alberta League Bonnyville Pontiacs in early January. Brown anchored Bonnyville’s top line with Brandon Whistle, who the Vipers traded for in early November and then dealt to the Silverbacks after Christmas for Josh Latta.

Brown compiled 63 goals in 141 games with the Pontiacs and rang up 11 snipes in 16 games with Vernon. Brown, Jordan Sandhu, who had one assist Tuesday night, and Latta have produced 16 points in the series.

“I’m not surprised at all what he’s doing out there,” said Whistle, of Brown. “I played with him for two-plus years and it’s really weird seeing it from the other end. He’s dominating. I told our goalies he shoots top glove, short side. On fifty per cent of his goals, he beats the d-man wide and then goes high. He did that twice last (Tuesday) night.”

Whistle says the Silverbacks will be a loose bunch in Game 4.

“It was kind of a tough situation but I thought we played our best last night. The play was even for the most part, but when Vernon gets in our zone, it’s tough to defend. They move the puck around so well. We’ll come out hard tonight and see what happens. There’s more pressure on them to try and close out the series.”

Whistle, a West Kelowna product, is currently in talks with the Belfast Giants of the British Elite League for next season. Brandon’s older brother Jackson, a former Kelowna Rocket, is the Belfast starting goaltender. Brandon’s father, David Whistle, 52, coached the Giants for a few years in the early 2000s. He now coaches at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.

Season MVP Rhett Kingston got Salmon Arm to within a goal with the only marker of the middle frame on a powerplay at 11:25.

The Vipers restored their two-goal edge at 17:22 when Niko Karamanis scored his first of the post-season.

The Silverbacks refused to quit and got to within one at 18:33 on defenceman Julian Timba’s second of the series.

Williamson added his third of the playoffs into an empty net at 18:58, sending the home fans scrambling to the parking lot.

“It was a really close game, back and forth, toe-to-toe,” said Williamson. “It was their best game and probably our best game of the series too. They’re fighting to stay alive so Game 4 will be the toughest to win.”

Dumba finished with 36 saves as Vernon outshot Salmon Arm 39-30. Ty Taylor picked up his third straight win for the Vipers.

Brown is tied for the playoff scoring lead with Jasper Weatherby of the Wenatchee Wild and Chase Dubois of the West Kelowna Warriors. Each player has eight points.

Elsewhere in the Interior Division, the Trail Smoke Eaters advanced to the second round, completing a sweep of the Warriors with a 6-3 win in West Kelowna.

Penticton Vees and the Wild are, like Vernon, a win away from advancing. The Vees thumped the hometown Coquitlam Express 7-2 while the Wild went to Merritt and edged the Centennials 5-4. Penticton and Wenatchee have 3-0 series leads.

Tyler Ghirardosi pulled the hat trick for the Smoke Eaters, the first team to advance to Round 2. Ryan Murphy opened the scoring for Trail early in the first but Michael Ryan and Michael Lombardi responded for the Warriors before Ghirardosi got his first to make it 2-2 after one.

Chase Stevenson put the Warriors up one at 11:01 of the second but Levi Glasman scored twice to put the Smokies up one going to the third. Ghirardosi got the insurance and one more into an empty net for the hat trick in the third to seal things.

A five-goal second period that included two goals each from Chris Klack and Wyatt Sloboshan, pumped up Penticton.

It was a 2-1 Express lead after one on goals by Jack MacNab and Josh Wildauer with Jackson Keane getting the Vees’ goal but the middle frame was all Penticton. Sloboshan, Marcus Mitchell and Klack got goals 3:05 apart to put the Vees up two. Sloboshan and Klack added their second each late in the second and in the third, Jack Barnes added a powerplay tally to round out the scoring.

Wenatchee got three goals from defencemen, including two from Cooper Zech, in a 5-4 win in Merritt over the Centennials.

Zech opened the scoring at 1:06 of the second but Zach Court responded for Merritt shortly after. Weatherby, with his fifth of the playoffs, connected just past the middle of the second and Zech got his other tally unassisted just over three minutes before the intermission.

Court’s second of the night got the Cents within one in the third but Lucas Sowder and Slava Demin, the other blueline scorer, tallied to restore the Wild cushion. Ashton Stockie and Zach Zorn tallied late in the game to get Merritt within one but they couldn’t force OT. Austin Park made 20 saves for the win while Jacob Berger stopped 40 for Merritt.

John Hawthorne made 52 saves and for the third straight game, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs won in overtime with Michael Sacco performing winning-goal honours in a 3-2 home-ice victory over the Victoria Grizzlies.

After a scoreless first, Marty Westhaver opened the scoring for the Grizzlies at 4:48 of the second but Julian Benner tied it not long after. In the third, Paul Selleck the go-ahead goal for the ‘Dogs and it looked like it might hold up but Victoria forced OT on a shorthanded goal by Matthew Doran with 50 seconds left in regulation.

Sacco’s winner came at 15:05 of overtime and makes Alberni Valley a surprise 3-0 leader in their series against the No. 1-seed Grizzlies.

In Surrey, Desi Burgart scored all four goals for the Eagles in a 4-2 win over the Langley Rivermen that puts the Eagles up 3-1 in the series.

After a scoreless first in which the Eagles had the edge in play, they went up 1-0 early in the second on Burgart’s first of the night. It remained the only goal until he tallied again in the third, on the power play, but Langley replied 60 seconds later with a Daneel Lategan marker. The hats came down at 12:31 of the third for Burgart, who was set up by former Western Leaguer John Wesley but again Langley drew within one on a an Angus Crookshank powerplay goal with 2:32 remaining.

Burgart got behind the defence in the final minute and took a long flip pass from Wesley before scoring into an empty net. Mario Cavaliere made 35 saves for the win.

Preston Brodziak’s goal at 3:36 of overtime delivered a 2-1 win for the Nanaimo Clippers over the Powell River Kings that evens their series at 2-2.

Ethan Kimball had the only goal of the first for the Kings and in the second, it was David Silye tying it for the Clippers at the 12-minute mark. Powell River were outsthot 24-13 through 40 minutes but came on in third with a 13-6 edge in shots but couldn’t get the winner past Taz Burman. Nanaimo held the edge in play in OT with a 5-1 shot advantage and Brodziak’s winner came with the ice still mostly unscathed.

Jake Gresh’s first of the playoffs was the winner for the Chilliwack Chiefs in a 3-2 home win over the Prince George Spruce Kings that evens their series at 2-2.

After a scoreless first, Ryan Bowen got the Chiefs on the board in the middle frame followed by teammate Bryan Allbee. Ethan De Jong got PG on the board with a shorthanded effort but Gresh’s winner came only 1:04 later. Nolan Welsh had the other Spruce Kings goal in the third.

Prince George goalie Evan DeBrouwer has signed a scholarship offer with the Arizona State Sun Devils for next year. He will be teammates with Brown and Sandhu. Vernon d-man Jack Judson heads to Arizona in 2020.

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