The No. 1 ranked team in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League is going home. The No. 2 seeded club is off to Dauphin, Man. to defend the Royal Bank Cup Championship.
The Vernon Vipers stopped the Spruce Grove Saints 7-3 Sunday night in Game 7 of the regional Doyle Cup series before 1,770 fans at Wesbild Centre.
It was Vernon’s seventh Doyle Cup title as they finally solved Saints’ netminder Vince Marozzi, beating the Edmonton product five times on 29 shots, before adding two late empty-netters.
Spruce Grove head coach Steve Hamilton was gracious in defeat, moments after leaving a morgue-like dressing room.
“It’s tough, what can you say? You don’t win hockey games in the first period, but you can sure lose them. We were flat at the wrong time.
“I loved our response tonight (in the final two periods). I don’t think we quit. That’s a wonderful hockey team we played against. Mark’s (Vernon coach Ferner) done an outstanding job coaching them. I thought we really emptied the tank to get to this position, but tonight wasn’t our night.”
Ferner credited the Saints for pushing Vernon, a team with a dozen returnees, to the limit after falling behind 3-1 in the series.
“Your backs are against the wall. You’d like to think that Spruce Grove had the momentum winning the last two games. It’s either win and move on, or lose and go home,” said the former NHL defenceman.
“All our guys who have been here before set the tone early. It looks good on them, they deserve this. And that was a great hockey we played, so this was very rewarding for them.”
Jonathan Milhouse set up the opening goal after he won a footrace to a loose puck in the neutral zone to earn a partial shorthanded breakaway. After missing his shot, the Yorba Linda, Calif. product collected the rebound and set up Braden Pimm for a point-blank blast at 9:30.
On the very next shift, Vernon defenceman Kevin Kraus, also a California import, covered the puck in the crease during a goalmouth scramble, forcing referee Trevor Hanson to award the Saints a penalty shot. Jordan Draper beat netminder Graeme Gordon high, but rang his shot off the crossbar.
Spruce Grove equalized shortly after, as Scott Allen took a feed from Kodie Curran on a broken play and slid his shot under Gordon.
The Grove kept pushing, but Gordon stood tall, coming cross-crease to deny Joshua Lazowski with an acrobatic glove save.
The Saints earned their first lead when Viper d-man Curtis Gedig gift wrapped a clearing pass from behind the net to Liam Darragh, who beat Gordon low at 16:34.
Vernon responded by rattling off three straight goals in a two-minute span to close out the first period. Pimm started the shooting spree as he cruised up the left wing and wired a shot top shelf over Marozzi’s shoulder.
Cory Kane then took a feed from Kraus, and beat Marozzi with a low shot from the high slot at 16:47.
Kellen Jones, with his seventh playoff goal, finished the onslaught with 65 seconds left in the frame, taking a clever drop pass from Sahir Gill and ripping a shot by Marozzi. It was one of the few times the Grove keeper has been caught out of position in this series.
The Vipers kept rolling in the second period as Connor Jones got a stick on Kraus’s knuckleball point.
The Saints salvaged a little momentum while on a powerplay in the final minute of the second period as Draper crept in from the sidewall to fire a shot that snuck under Gordon’s arm.
The Vipers went into survival mode in the third period, putting up a defensive wall, collapsing around Gordon whenever the Saints got a whiff of the net.
Connor Jones and Robbie Short recorded empty-netters 30 seconds apart in the final minute.
The Royal Bank Cup starts May 1.
Check out the sports section in Wednesday’s Morning Star for a full recap of Game 7.