It sure was a Good Friday for the Vernon Vipers. The Snakes got goals from twins Connor and Kellen Jones to earn a 2-1 decision over the Powell River Kings in Game 1 of the best-of-seven B.C. Hockey League Fred Page Cup final at Wesbild Centre.
Kellen opened the scoring midway through the first period after linemate Sahir Gill redirected Stevie Weinstein’s powerplay point shot at the side of the net, and Kellen jammed it home under Kings’ netminder Josh Watson.
The 2,500 fans may not have seen many quality scoring chances Friday night, but Connor’s winner at 14:19 of the third period was a beauty. The 19-year-old dangler turned defenceman Jason Yee inside out on an odd-man rush with Gill before wrapping a forehand deke around Watson (27 saves).
Kellen (first star) made a nice heads-up pass in the Vipers’ zone to catch Powell River flatfooted on the transition.
“I heard Connor (second star) yelling, so I just put it in his spot and he made a couple great moves, so it was a nice goal,” said the speedy Montrose, B.C. native.
Both teams looked tentative to start, and both head coaches – the Kings’ Kent Lewis and Vipers’ Mark Ferner – felt their teams lacked jump at times. While happy to get the early series lead, Ferner expected better effort and execution heading into Game 2, which went Saturday night at Wesbild.
The series heads to the Sunshine Coast for Games 3 and 4, Monday and Tuesday night respectively, in Powell River.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy, or a lot of jump. We did just enough to win,” said the Vipers’ third-year bench boss.
“We turned pucks over, we didn’t get pucks deep. At this time of year we should be ready to go. That’s what playoff hockey is all about. Usually it’s the team that makes the least mistakes – and we certainly made our share tonight – but we did have some real good effort on our side.”
The Kings had a golden opportunity to equalize in the final minute of the first period when Viper defenceman Dan Nycholat got burned trying to make a soft clearing attempt at his blueline. On the resulting turnover, Chad Niddery and Matt Garbowsky went in 2-on-1 on Graeme Gordon (29 saves), who turned aside Niddery’s blast.
After grinding out a seven-game series against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the Coastal Conference final, Lewis said the Kings’ inability to adjust to the Vipers’ skilled possession-style game was a factor in Game 1.
“The tempo from the last series was a little faster. I think we need to learn how to slow it down and be better with the puck,” said Lewis.
“Our powerplay (Kings went 0-for-4) was just a little too jittery and we didn’t read the time that we had.”
Drew Pettitt had the Kings’ best chance in a scoreless second period, but couldn’t bury the open-netter as Viper d-man Kevin Kraus broke up the play.
Midway through the second frame, the Kings’ Alex McDougall put a stiff hit on Dylan Walchuk, shattering the glass beside the Vipers’ bench, causing a 10-minute delay.
In the third period, Vernon’s Braden Pimm set up David Robinson twice on an early powerplay. Watson kicked out a pad to deny Robinson a one-timer from the slot, after which the Vernon native narrowly missed a backdoor pass.
The Kings got on the board less than two minutes after Connor’s goal, as Teagan Waugh charged across the blueline and had his shot deflect off Weinstein to sneak past Gordon, low blocker side.
With Watson pulled for the extra attacker, the Kings nearly forced overtime as Niddery, standing in the slot, had the top half of the net, but couldn’t convert.
“I just tried going to my forehand and Graeme got a little piece of it with a poke check,” said Niddery (third star).
Niddery, a Penticton product, wasn’t shy in saying the Bulldogs were a more difficult team to play against than the Vipers.
“We gave them a little too much credit than we should have,” said the 19-year-old. “Alberni Valley is better than these guys for sure. Alberni works hard, and these guys, they’re are all just skill. They don’t like getting hit, they don’t like to hit.”
He adds that being behind in a series is nothing new to the Kings. They had to overcome a 3-1 series deficit against Alberni to advance to the final.
“It just shows all the guys that we’ve faced adversity and that we’ve got a lot of heart and character. We can always come back, we just got to take it one game at a time.”