Morning Star Staff
The Vernon Vipers have added some fresh ink to the B.C. Hockey League record books.
For just the second time in franchise history, the Snakes have clinched more than 50 wins in a regular season. The Vipers hit the 51-win mark Sunday afternoon when they crushed the Surrey Eagles 7-3 in front of 2,804 fans at Wesbild Centre.
The Vipers won 52 games in the 1998-99 campaign, which they followed up with a national Junior A title.
The 51-6-0-3 Snakes also set a new BCHL record for the fewest goals allowed (119). The previous record of 137 was set by the Penticton Vees in 2005-06.
Netminder Blake Voth etched his name into the BCHL annals, setting a record 1.79 goals against average. The rookie tender bettered Nanaimo Clipper net detective Simon Nolet’s 1.98 GAA in 2004-05.
The Vipers, who got the overtime winner from Mike Collins to brush back the host Westside Warriors 3-2 Saturday night, now have a 16-day rest before they host Games 1 and 2 of the Interior Conference semifinal, Tuesday, March 9 and Wednesday, March 10 at Wesbild.
Vernon bench boss Mark Ferner liked the Vipers’ jump early in Sunday’s game, but felt they should have shut the door.
“We started the game on a good note and played a great 50 minutes, but after that we unfortunately let Surrey get the better of us and let some goals past us.
“Surrey faced a tough trip with three guys out but we had three top guys out too in Braden Pimm, Mike Collins and Dan Nycholat, to rest them for the playoffs.
“Everyone from top to bottom on our team played great this year. I can’t single out just a couple certain players who made the biggest impression. We always play together as a team.”
The Vipers, playing their fourth game in five days, scored two quick goals 28 seconds apart with Connor Jones’ 36th and Sahir Gill’s third. Jones’ goal came on a beautiful play where he slipped past the Surrey defence and flew up the ice to beat Surrey netminder Mike Chan (46 saves) five-hole.
Netminder Graeme Gordon (20 saves), making his first start after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury, drew the assist, along with Dave Robinson.
Said Robinson: “I thought we played a pretty good game and controlled the play for almost 60 minutes. We put a lot of shots on their goalie and were rewarded for that.
“It’s a great feeling clinching first overall and a great accomplishment having the second most wins in a season ever. I’ve only been here for 20 games this year, but am still proud to be a part of a team like this. I’m really excited for the playoffs to start seeing as my team (WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins) didn’t make it last year, so I’m eager to get it going and hopefully make a run.”
Vernon, who went 0-for-7 on the powerplay, lost veteran forward Cole Ikkala near the end of the first period when he got hit by a Kevin Kraus point shot. Ikkala needed help off the ice and didn’t return.
The 30-24-0-6 Eagles also lost a player when Wes Vannieuwenhuizen took a puck to the face, leaving a trail of blood as he left the ice. He got patched up and returned in the second period.
Call-up Trevor Fitzgerald, in his third game with the Vipers, notched his first BCHL goal 1:22 into the second. Kraus (5th) scored shorthanded and Robinson (15th) tallied Vernon’s other goals.
Bryce Kakoske (13th) and Cory Kane (22nd) made it 7-0 Vernon before Surrey rallied with three straight goals, but it was too late to make a serious comeback.
Erik Cooper (2nd), Jeff Regier (4th) and Bradley McGowan (12th) handled the Eagles’ attack.
“Things just didn’t go our way tonight,” said Surrey head coach Shane Kuss, whose club went 0-for-2 on the powerplay. “We were pretty banged up coming into this Interior road trip.
“Vernon played a good game and took advantage of the opportunities that were given to them. We didn’t give up though and kept battling hard.
The Vipers’ Jonathan Milhouse, who chipped in with three assists to earn first star, also earned a league pennant with the Victoria Grizzlies last season.
“Last year, I was fortunate enough to have been on a team that won first overall, all through the regular season. It’s really nice to play on a team the second year who can also make that feat.
“You really don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs because anyone can be beaten on any night because everybody wants to win so bad, but I know our team wants to win and we don’t expect anything less than that.”