Vernon Vipers’ Pat McGillis

Vernon Vipers’ Pat McGillis

Snakes earn Interior three-peat

Walchuk fires four in series-deciding win.

SALMON ARM – The Powell River Kings did their part. And so have the Vernon Vipers.

For the third straight year, the two teams will battle for B.C. Hockey League supremacy in the Fred Page Cup final, starting with Games 1 and 2, Friday and Saturday night respectively on the Sunshine Coast.

Vernon advanced by rallying from a two-game deficit, rattling off four straight wins to eliminate the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in the Interior Conference final, capped by a 5-4 win in a series-deciding Game 6 Friday night at the Sunwave Centre.

Forward Dylan Walchuk was a human highlight reel, pocketing four goals in what was arguably his most dominating game in a Viper jersey. The soft-spoken McBride product was quick to share the praise amongst his team, winners of the Ryan Hatfield Memorial Trophy as Interior champions for the third straight year.

“My teammates and linemates (Pat McGillis and Marcus Basara), they got me the puck and sacrificed their bodies to get pucks by guys and gave me some room out there, so credit to them.”

Walchuk, committed to the NCAA Northen Michigan Wildcats next season, opened the scoring on a 2-on-1 with Basara at 4:18 of the first period, ripping a shot past netminder Kris Moore’s glove hand.

SiverBack captain David Killip ignited the nearly 1,600 fans midway through the frame, jamming home a loose puck on Kirby Halcrow’s doorstep after a Jayson Reardon point shot.

But just like they did in Game 4, the Snakes capitalized on some sloppy SilverBack play in the final minute of a period. Goals by Bryce Kakoske, on a sweet one-timer, and Walchuk, on a partial breakaway with nine seconds left in the period, made it 3-1 after 20 minutes.

If there was such thing as a BCHL goal-of-the-year, Walchuk’s hat trick marker would at least deserve a nomination. He crashed the blueline at speed, turned d-man Kevin Mills inside out before beating Moore (23 saves) to give his team a 4-1 lead.

“He challenged their dee. He went right at them, faked the shot and dragged it and he pretty much did the same thing to Moore,” said Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner.

“In tight he has really good hands and he has that ability, with great puck possession and great skills, to beat guys 1-on-1.”

When the Vipers fell behind early in the series, Ferner decided to change his approach.

“We’re a young impressionable group in there and going down 2-0 is never easy, especially losing two games at home,” he explained.

Ferner told his players: “We need to just relax, go play and have some fun with it. Go play the game and trust your teammates and trust the systems and be accountable for your actions.”

Salmon Arm wouldn’t go away quietly though. Brett Knowles dove across the crease to bury a puck behind Halcrow at 13:02 of the second period. Reardon, a Lumby native, made it a one-goal game when his dump-in attempt careened off the sidewall and fooled Halcrow (17 saves), who had left his crease to play the puck.

“They kept crawling back. They’re just a hard-working team and they battled back. It kind of gave us a little scare, but we regrouped during the period and came out with our best effort in the third,” said Walchuk, who pocketed the winner with a slick backhand after McGillis fed him a clever chip pass off the wall at 6:05 of the third period.

Said Salmon Arm head coach Tim Kehler: “We had lots of opportunity to fold our tents and go away, but the kids persevered. They dug in, down three goals against a team that’s really stingy, especially when they’ve got the lead.

“You look at the first period – three really poor plays, either with the puck or in coverage to give them those easy looks. To give up three in the first was really our undoing.”

In Game 5 Thursday night at Wesbild Centre, rookie power forward Aaron Hadley netted a controversial overtime winner as he pounced on a loose puck in the crease behind Moore to give the Snakes a 3-2 win before 2,300 fans.

Referees Nick Swaine and Trent Knorr needed to confer before allowing the goal, despite a furious protest from the Salmon Arm bench.

It was the first home win by either team in the series, and Vernon’s first home win against Salmon Arm all year.

Game 5 was another hard-hitting affair, punctuated by some stellar goaltending by second star Moore (32 save) and Halcrow (24 saves).

Darren Nowick opened the scoring on a powerplay midway through the first period, deftly redirecting Ryan Renz’s centering pass five-hole on Moore.

Walchuk made it 2-0 Vernon on another man advantage five minutes into the second frame. Captain David Robinson put the puck down low to McGillis, who centered for Walchuk.

Moore came up with a game-changing save on Robinson on a broken play in front of his net in the final minute of the second period. The SilverBacks used a quick transition to create a shorthanded, odd-man rush where Mike Hammond dished a centering feed for Morgan Zulinick, who wired a shot past Halcrow’s glove with 40 second remaining.

Clinton Atkinson forced overtime midway through the third period, beating Halcrow through traffic from a sharp angle.

Meanwhile, Powell River recorded four unanswered goals, including two on the powerplay, as they eliminated the Surrey Eagles with a 4-1 win in Game 6 of the Coastal final Friday night at South Surrey Arena.

Daniel Schuler led the Kings’ offence with a pair of goals to help his team hoist the Cliff McNabb Trophy as Coastal champions for the third straight year.

The Eagles staved off elimination in Game 5 with a 3-1 win over the host Kings Thursday night at Hap Parker Arena.

SNAKE BITES: Viper grads Chay Genoway (No. 2-ranked North Dakota Fighting Sioux), Cole Ikkala (No. 8 Union Dutchmen) and Kyle Bigos and Mike Collins (No. 5 Merrimack Warriors) are among 43 BCHL alumni competing in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championships. Regional championship action went Friday and Saturday. The gold-medal game goes April 9 in St. Paul, Minn.