Vernon Vipers' captain Riley Guenther (right) dances around Max Daerendinger of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in BCHL play Saturday at Kal Tire Place.

Finlay flying for Snakes

Vernon Vipers' forward Liam Finlay collects B.C. Hockey League Player of the Week.

Liam Finlay figures he has a little more room to grow physically. Whether he adds an inch or two as he approaches his 18th birthday won’t really matter: the kid can play hockey.

At 5-foot-7, 145 pounds, Finlay has the skill, savvy and smarts to survive in the B.C. Hockey League.

“I’ve gotta keep my head up or else I wouldn’t last out there,” joked Finlay, an hour after being named the league’s Player of the Week Monday.

A clone and fan of the Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau, Finlay rang up eight points and a pair of first-star ratings as the Vernon Vipers swept three weekend games.

The New Westminster-born Finlay  is third in team scoring with 17 goals and 45 points, while the Vipers are second in the Interior Division and third overall at 26-11-1-2. He and regular linemate Luke Voltin have clicked with Anthony Latina since Jagger Williamson went on injured reserve at the Christmas break.

“Latina’s a bigger body and he moves the puck well,” said Finlay. “They both create a lot of space for me and I try and find them. Things are going well for us.”

Vernon obtained Finlay in an Oct. 28 trade for the rights to Prince Albert Raider forward Dakota Conroy and future considersations. Finlay racked up 101 points in two major Midget seasons with the Okanagan Rockets after earning 77 points his final Bantam year with Pursuit of Excellence.

Viper assistant coach Kevin Kraus says the Kelowna roadrunner has found his comfort zone.

“He’s such a smart and special hockey player. He has the ability to find the open areas and he’s very shifty. He’s a very dynamic player and a big part of our team.”

Finlay secured a NCAA Division I scholarship with the University of Denver Pioneers while playing Midget, something that rarely happens.

“That feels pretty nice,” said Finlay. “You can’t really go wrong with Denver. I knew a lot about the program and their coach.”

Finlay credits head coach Mark Ferner, who played 17 years of pro hockey, with fine-tuning his skill set.

“I’ve learned a ton from him. He has so much knowledge and he points out the little things to help my game and take my game to another level.”

With comedian/net detective Danny Todoyschuk leading the way, Finlay says the Vipers are a loose, but well prepared bunch.

“Our team’s really tight. The biggest thing about our team is we’re serious when the games come, but we have fun in the dressing room. We have a light atmosphere at practice; we work hard so we’re ready for game time.”

Finlay and Voltin, a Minnesota product, billet with Keith and Maria Murray, recent immigrants from Great Britain.

“They’re awesome people. We play kitchen hockey with their seven-year-old son, Oliver, so we’re treated like family.”

The Vipers have 18 games remaining, including seven at home, before the playoffs. They earn their showers most nights and are a blast to watch.

Kraus and company are hardly conceding the division banner to the Penticton Vees, who are a dozen points in front.

“It’s not as impossible as it looks. We obviously have to beat them in both games we have left and have some teams help us out, but we’re going to go for it.”

After icing the Prince George Spruce Kings Friday, the Vipers followed with a 4-1 win over the feisty Alberni Valley Bulldogs Saturday night at Kal Tire Place, and a 5-3 victory over the host Surrey Eagles late Sunday afternoon.

“It was a busy weekend and considering we had 12 guys at two practices last week because of the flu, I thought we competed hard,” said Kraus.

“(Ken) Citron played Sunday after being out with the flu and he was our freshest body. I don’t know if he was 100 per cent, but he had two assists and got third star.”

T.J. Dumonceaux, with his 19th of the year, Riley Brandt (8th), Finlay (17th), Nicholas Rasovic (4th) and Thomas Aldworth (29th) handled the Viper offence in front of Jarrod Schamerhorn against the Eagles.

Ben Vikich (11th), Latrell Charleson (10th) and Jordan Funk (9th) replied for last-place Surrey, who welcomed 19-year-old forward Tyler Harkins from the Minnesota Junior Hockey League’s Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings.

The Vipers, who are ranked 19th in the nation, got an even-strength goal from Luke Shiplo and powerplay snipes from Liam Couglin, Finlay and Dumonceau before 1,775 fans Saturday night. Josh Adkins replied for the Dawgs, who sorely missed superstar d-man Kurt Gosselin, in Michigan for his grandfather’s funeral.

Things got testy in the third period with five fighting majors and several roughin minors assessed by referee Duncan Brow. Latina fought ex-Viper Tyler Povelofskie, getting the instigator penalty.

“The game in Port Alberni was about the same way,” said Kraus. “They like to play an in-your-face style and we stood up for ourselves.”

Vernon takes a four-game winning streak into a Friday night tilt against the much-loved West Kelowna Warriors (21-15-0-1). The Vipers entertain the Coquitlam Express (15-22-1-4) Saturday night.

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