The Vernon Vipers got their swagger back. Apparently it was hiding in Powell River.
A couple days after squaring their B.C. Hockey League Fred Page Cup final with the host Powell River Kings at 2-2, the Vipers surged ahead in the best-of-seven series by stuffing the Kings 4-2 in Game 5 Thursday night at Wesbild Centre.
A win in Game 6, which went Saturday at Hap Parker Arena on the Sunshine Coast, would give Vernon their 11th Fred Page Cup title in franchise history and a berth in the Doyle Cup Championship.
After bussing to Richmond Friday, the Vipers caught a quick flight over to Powell River Saturday for the game. If necessary, Game 7 would go Monday at Wesbild.
In Game 5, Robbie Short pocketed the winner at 5:58 of the third period, blowing by Kings’ defenceman Reid Campbell and picking the top corner on netminder Josh Watson with a hard snapshot.
First star Cory Kane and David Robinson drew assists.
Kane, an Irvine, Calif. product, played one of his best games in a Viper uniform, setting up Vernon’s first goal as he broke through a pair of Kings at the blueline before feeding Robinson a clever backhand drop pass. Robinson walked into the slot and fired low, beating Watson five-hole two minutes into the game.
“They (Powell River defenders) were both on me and I just dropped it back and they didn’t really expect that,” said Kane, who credits a visit from older brother Chris (NCAA Merrimack Warriors grad) for helping elevate his play.
“My brother came up and he was telling me I needed to move my feet more,” said Kane.
Viper netminder Graeme Gordon faced just five Powell River shots in the first period, but looked sharp in denying Cody Rainaldi with a poke check in the final minute after a Viper turnover.
In his attempt to let the game flow, referee Grant Tyson, normally one of the more consistent zebras in the BCHL, allowed a lot of non-calls both ways, including three questionable obstructions on Vernon players over a 60-second span midway through the second period. The final one, a blindside pick at centre ice on the Vipers’ Kellen Jones as he attempted to check Mat Bodie, was followed shortly by the Kings’ first goal. With extra room to move, Bodie dangled past a few defenders before beating Gordon (20 saves) gloveside at 9:00.
Said Bodie: “We just didn’t battle hard enough in the first two periods, and then weren’t able to get anything going in the third. They scored timely goals and we just weren’t able to come back and battle as hard as they did tonight.”
Bodie expected the Kings, who erased a 3-1 deficit against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the Coastal Conference final series, to respond at home.
“It’s gotta be pretty similar to what we did in Alberni. Our backs are to the wall and you gotta play a perfect hockey game. When a team’s trying to eliminate you, trying to end your season, you gotta come out more desperate than they do and that’s something we have to do for two games now.”
Following Bodie’s goal, Tyson earned a heart-felt chorus of “We want a ref!” from 2,128 fans for not making a call.
Showing considerable poise, the Vipers played on unphased, and were rewarded at 16:31 when Jones took a short seam pass from Sahir Gill and wrapped a gorgeous deke around Watson to restore the lead.
Vernon continued to shut Powell River down for much of the third period, keeping the Kings in their own end to chew time off the clock.
Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner credited Powell River for being a hard team to put away.
“The last message I sent (in the second intermission) is we’re not going to sit back on this thing. We weren’t going to let our foot off the gas because they’ve got some guys that can hurt you. They’ve got a mobile defence and if you give them the opportunities they can do some damage.”
Just as Kings’ head coach Kent Lewis called Watson (38 saves) to the bench for the extra attacker, Mitch Labreche fed Chad Niddery (third star) a slick back-door pass from the corner for a one-timer with 58 seconds remaining. Niddery earned a misconduct right after his goal.
After burning a timeout, the Kings once again worked the puck deep in Vernon’s zone with Watson pulled, but were unable to capitalize as Dan Nycholat cleared the puck past centre, where Jonathan Milhouse sealed the win with a post-and-in empty-netter at 19:42.
Furious with several non-calls during their final play in Vernon’s zone, Lewis tossed a water bottle on the ice in frustration, getting ejected for his actions.
“At the end of the day, there’s only so much you can kind of put up with,” said Lewis. “I was very unprofessional and I think I was totally frustrated by (what he felt was poor officiating). What does Hockey Canada, what does everybody want?
“We could have had some calls on us and they could have some. I thought the game was supposed to be called a different way right now, and that’s not whining. I’m not whining because we never deserved this one at all tonight.”