No. 1 Saints mirror Vipers

A Western Hockey League playoff game Friday night in Red Deer was Game 150 for Jim Crosson, a part-time scout with the Edmonton Oilers.

A mortgage broker away from the rink, Crosson knows the Alberta Junior Hockey League well. He’s been a GM in Lloydminster and an assistant coach with the Spruce Grove Saints.

A former defenceman with the Kelowna Buckaroos and Calgary Wranglers, Crosson has taken in a dozen Spruce Grove games this season, including the first four games of their Enerflex Cup final series with the Camrose Kodiaks.

The Saints will meet the Vipers for the second straight year in the Doyle Cup regional series. They grounded the RBC Cup host Kodiaks 5-1 in Game 5 Friday night at Grant Fuhr Arena, winning the championship series 4-1.

After getting the skinny on the Saints from Crosson, it sounds like the Saints and Vipers are built with the same template. No superstar scorers, but they find ways to win. Both teams play sting defence and score by committee.

“They don’t generate a whole ton of stuff up front, but they have some big, strong forwards who cycle the puck really well,” said Crosson, 50.

“Their powerplay is typically really strong. They load the back end and play a lazy umbrella (system). Poulin (leading scorer Felix-Antoine) is a real smart player with an unbelievable shot from the point.”

Viper fans will likely learn to hate rugged Bryce Van Brabant, the Saints’ captain who has trouble stopping. Van Brabant scored 10 times and pocketed a team-high 153 penalty minutes in the regular season.

“He’s six-two, 190 and he runs over everybody,” said Crosson. “He’s a real horse for them.”

Forward Scott Allan, one of eight returnees with the No. 1-ranked Saints, was one of five 20-goal men this season.

“He’s real, real strong on the boards and when he decides to go to the net, there’s no stopping him.”

The Saints grabbed the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Poulin from the Drayton Valley Thunder at the trading deadline in January and he is paired with fellow 20-year-old Mat Knoll, another six-footer, on the Saints’ top defensive tandem.

Spruce Grove also wheeled and dealed to get forward Nicholas Bourgeois from the Olds Grizzlys.

“He’s small, stocky, like a fireplug. Tough as nails.”

Crosson says one-time Viper Brett Switzer, in his third year, hasn’t quite regained his form due to injury woes, but is an effective forward who snagged 26 snipes this season.

Josh Koper, who fired nine goals last year, led Spruce Grove with 30 goals. Poulin had 27 goals and 61 points.

“They’re an older team and you sometimes kind of wonder how they do it, and then they pop in a couple of quick goals,” said Crosson. “I don’t think they are as skilled as last year.”

The Vipers had just two players convert 20 or more goals – Dylan Walchuk with 24 and captain David Robinson with 32. Walchuk and d-man Malcolm Lyles almost rate superstar status, as does Robinson who is the most consistent Viper forward.

In winning their third straight Fred Page Cup, the Vipers join the Penticton Knights, Nanaimo Clippers and Kamloops Rockets in three-peat land. The Knights did it from 1980-82, getting 65 goals and 132 points from Ray Ferraro in their third title year.

Nanaimo won from 1977-1979, taking the ‘78 Cup by default when the Penticton Vees refused to finish Game 3, and the rest of the series, due to what they deemed violent play by the feared Morley Anderson and the Clippers.

Robinson, whose late grandfather Vern Dye helped found the BCJHL and the Vernon franchise, had a huge cheering section at Game 4 Tuesday night, including his first cousin, Ryan Harrison, a 19-year-old forward with the Everett Silvertips.

Ryan’s brother, Jordon, helped the Mt. Royal Cougars of Calgary win the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final over the SAIT Trojans.

The series made national headlines when officials ruled the Cougars, in error, had a backup goalie on the bench who was ineligible to be on the championship game roster. The goalie was added after the team’s usual starter was injured the day before.

Mt. Royal had their title stripped and then given back before a scheduled re-match.

Sutter taking Bentley to Allan Cup

It was 55 years ago that the Vernon Canadians rated rock-star status after claiming the Allan Cup senior AAA title over the Chatham Maroons.

Brian Sutter’s Bentley Generals of Alberta are off to this year’s Allan Cup, April 11-16, in Kenora, Ont. They took out the Fort St. John Flyers 3-2 in a five-game series.

“We found a way,” Sutter told Black Press Sports. “There’s no leagues that play five games in five days, but it was a credit to their guys and credit to our guys, both teams gutted it out. It wasn’t pretty, but we deserved it.”

Surrey Eagle grad Joe Vandermeer was named the series MVP and gave the Flyers credit for not laying down.

Former Viper Dustin Claffey is with Bentley, who have former Detroit Red Wing Darryl LaPlante and ex-Hartford Whaler Kevin Smyth.