No Viper hockey from mid March to mid May? It’s true, but hard to believe as Vernon ended their injury-riddled B.C. Hockey League season with a 10-1 ambushing of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Saturday night at the Shaw Centre.
The Vipers missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season when Jason Williamson, now the team’s head coach/GM, was captain of Joe Oliver’s crew.
Vernon finished fifth in the Interior Conference at 30-27-1-2. The Chilliwack Chiefs, who toppled the Trail Smoke Eaters 5-2 and stuffed the Westside Warriors 5-2 in weekend play, took the fourth and final playoff berth, eight points ahead of Vernon.
“It’s very tough, especially going so far last year,” said New Yorker John Knisley, who counted 2+3 in his last game as a Viper. He missed 13 games due to injury.
“Playoffs were the highlight of my season last year. They were a lot of fun, and to miss them this year is very disappointing, but it’s also a learning experience. I think it’s going to make the guys who were new to the team this year, realize next year how hard it is to make the playoffs. It’s going to make us better as people. It’s a very good life lesson.”
Knisley, who is headed to the Cornell Big Red of the NCAA next season, was happy to help stay-at-home d-man Geoff Crisfield get his first snipe of the season in Salmon Arm. It was the all-important 10th Viper goal.
“Zee (Mike Zalewski) and I were out there and trying to get him the puck on the powerplay and we gave him a good chance, exact same spot and he missed, and we gave it to him again, same spot, and he just potted it home, made no mistake of it. One-timer, real hard, back of the net, great goal.
“He was pretty excited. I don’t think he knew what to do for his selly (celebration) when he scored, but we gave him a big cheer and the boys were pretty happy for him.”
Brendan Persley scored twice for the Vipers, who held period leads of 3-0 and 8-1.
Zalewski, a New Yorker who led the Vipers with 38 goals after ringing up a dozen as a rookie, was named team MVP Monday night. The future RPI Engineer was taking positives from a trying year.
“Things didn’t go our way this year, but I think everybody grew a lot. Whether you lose your last game of the season, RBC, and come in second place or miss playoffs by a few games, it still hurts the same. You just gotta learn from it and move on.”
Zalewski, who tied for 12th in league points, didn’t hire training guru Gary Roberts or anything like that in the offseason. He said getting a bigger role boosted his confidence and made it easier to chip in.
“I was just trying to have a good season and just help the team out every night. I mean, I didn’t expect something like that. I didn’t set any number goals. I just wanted to play the best I could and play consistently and I hope I did that.”
Kirby Halcrow finished his BCHL career, posting his 24th win as the Vipers outshot the Gorillas 51-27 before 1,450 fans.
Devin Muller answered for the SilverBacks, who finished seventh at 16-35-0-9.
“They were up early and kept on rolling,” said Salmon Arm head coach Colin O’Hara, who let 20-year-old Kurt Williams close out his career in net despite the onslaught. “Four-one was as close as we got. It was one of those nights where everything was going right for them.”
The Vipers, who lose nine players through graduation or U.S. scholarships, will announce soon some top-end signings for next season.
Second-year Brett Corkey, a Calgary product, was chosen to the BCHL’s first all-star team Tuesday afternoon, joining Penticton Vees’ Mike Reilly on defence.
Meanwhile, the No. 1-ranked Vees had their winning streak halted at 42 games when they fell 5-2 to the host Prince George Spruce Kings Saturday night.
Penticton, who have lost 35-goalman Connor Reilly to season-ending knee surgery, open the playoffs against Chilliwack. Prince George faces the second-place Merritt Centennials.
SNAKE BITES: The Vipers got just 16 goals from their dee core, including two from affiliate players…Paul DeJersey of the Spruce Kings won the points derby with 98 and was named Interior MVP, taking the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy. The West Vancouver product collected 17 points with Salmon Arm last season…Alex Petan of the Coquitlam Express received the Coastal MVP…Mario Lucia of the Vees won the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy as Top Rookie, while teammate Mike Reilly grabbed the Best Defenceman award…Penticton’s Fred Harbinson and Matt Erhart of the Surrey Eagles took the Joe Tennant Memorial Trophies as Coach of the Year…The Saskatchewan Huskies clipped former Viper captain David Robinson and the U of Calgary Dinos 2-1 in triple overtime, in a deciding Game 3, for their first CIS Canada West banner since 2007 and a ticket to Fredericton for the nationals…Robinson, a forward, had six assists and 50 PIM in 28 games.