Defenceman Adam Thompson is one of three Vernon Vipers to have faced the Powell River Kings in each of the last two Fred Page Cup finals.
He says they were good then, and possibly even better now as the two teams meet in the best-of-seven series for the third straight year. The Vipers left Thursday morning for the 12-hour, two-ferry trip to the Sunshine Coast for Games 1 and 2, tonight and Saturday respectively, at Hap Parker Arena.
“In the first year, they were a little bit more skilled. They had guys like Darcy Oakes and they were pretty much 1-2-3 in league scoring,” said Thompson, who skated alongside defenceman Stevie Weinstein and forward Bryce Kakoske in the 2008-09 series.
“This year, they’ve kind of modelled our team – they’re bigger, they’re a lot more physical. We look forward to them just dumping it in and going to work, kind of playing the same way we do.
“It’s going to be a bit of a chess match this series, with people taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes.”
The Vipers earned the chance to defend their B.C. Hockey League title by rallying from a two-game deficit to knock off the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in Game 6 of the Interior Conference finals.
The wins have come at a cost though as Vernon might have to start the Fred Page with just five defencemen – Thompson, Weinstein, Malcolm Lyles, all 20-year-olds, and Brett Corkey and Ryan Renz. Phil Patenaude was injured in Game 2 of the Interior finals, and Max Mowat has been on the shelf since the Westside Warriors series.
“It starts to take a toll. You start to play a lot of games in a few days, but all of our d-men are ready and up for the challenge,” said Thompson.
“With five dee you get in the game more often, and for me personally, I enjoy that. You get a few more shifts and you feel like you’re more in the game.”
The Kings earned their way to the finals by grounding the Surrey Eagles in six games in the Coastal final.
Powell River head coach Kent Lewis says last year’s Game 7 loss in the Fred Page still weighs on his returning players’ minds; especially the championship-winning goal, a harmless looking shot that took a deflection off defenceman Justin Dasilva’s skate.
“I think we were the better team in that game, but you can be the better team all you want, it’s the team that scores that wins the game,” said Lewis. “That goal was tough, and I think that’s what hurt our guys.”
The Kings finished the regular season 12 points clear of the second-place Vipers, placing head coach Mark Ferner in the unfamiliar role of underdog.
“You look at their numbers throughout the year and they have been the best team. In saying that, you can also talk about the series with Salmon Arm. We were 1-9 against them (including first two losses in the Interior final). We end up winning four straight,” he said.
“We’re happy to be in this situation and we’re going to try to make the best of it. Our kids are excited to get this series started.”
SNAKE BITES: Injured Vipers Patenaude and Dane Muench skated with the team at Wednesday-morning practice. Mowat and forward Colton Sparrow, also on injury reserve, did not dress.