Liam Finlay of the Vipers and Blaine Caton of the Trail Smoke Eaters prepare for a faceoff in B.C. Hockey League action before 2,113 fans Saturday night at Cominco Arena. Vernon won 7-2 to take the fourth and final playoff berth in the Interior Division.

Liam Finlay of the Vipers and Blaine Caton of the Trail Smoke Eaters prepare for a faceoff in B.C. Hockey League action before 2,113 fans Saturday night at Cominco Arena. Vernon won 7-2 to take the fourth and final playoff berth in the Interior Division.

Vipers face Vees in first round

Head coach Mark Ferner asked his top players to be at their ultimate best in Game 58 of the BCHL season Saturday night.

Black Press Sports

Head coach Mark Ferner asked his top players to be at their ultimate best in Game 58 of the B.C. Hockey League season Saturday night in Trail.

The request was granted as alternate captain Liam Finlay pulled the hat trick and defenceman Bo Pellah supplied four assists as the Vernon Vipers dispatched the Smoke Eaters 7-2 before 2,113 fans at Cominco Arena.

The Vipers secured the fourth and final playoff berth in the Interior Division in their last regular season game and open a best-of-seven Interior semifinal series Friday night against the league champion Penticton Vees.

Game 2 in the Ford Road to the Fred Page Cup series goes Sunday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre. There is a Megadeth concert Saturday night at the Penticton arena.

Games 3 and 4 shift to Kal Tire Place Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Vernon and the Merritt Centennials, 4-3 winners over the visiting Wenatchee Wild, both finished with 51 points. The Vipers took fourth with 24 wins, one more than the Cents. The Smokies finished last, three points back of Vernon and Merritt.

The Vees finished with 50 wins and 101 points. They are only the fifth team in league history to post 50 victories.

“Both Merritt and Trail, we’ve been in a dogfight all year for that final playoff spot,” said Ferner. “And fortunately for us we came up with the right effort at the right time.”

Vipers spotted the Smokies an early goal by Bennett Morrison, his first of the season on a screened shot, before producing powerplay snipes two minutes apart and taking a 4-1 first-period lead. It was 6-1 Snakes after 40 minutes.

“I think the moment got the better of us a little bit,” said Smoke Eater coach Curtis Toneff. “Their powerplay was clicking and our penalty kill wasn’t, and special teams can be the difference and it was the difference in the first period I think. It’s tough to climb out of a 4-1 deficit after one.”

Jimmy Lambert supplied his 15th snipe of the season, on the powerplay, six minutes after Morrison scored 76 seconds after the anthem. Finlay made it 2-1 on another powerplay and the Kelowna dynamo connected again, three minutes later, making it 3-1. Tufto, with his team-high 25th, pushed it to 4-1 at 15:09.

The Vipers extended the lead to 6-1 on goals from captain Colton McCarthy, his 21st, and Nicholas Rasovic, his first.

“The way it started, down 1-0, and our guys they kind of woke up,” said Ferner. “We have a hockey team that when we play a certain way we can play well. You know they’re kids, they have to believe it, they have to trust it, and I think the most important thing is you have to have success when you do those things.”

The Vipers suffered an 8-1 loss to the Wild the previous night to set up the potential one-game takes all match up on Saturday, and that drubbing helped put this game in perspective.

“We just tried to forget about it,” said Ferner.  “Shoot, you’re 57 games into the regular season and it all comes down to one game. It’s unfortunate, Trail fought all year, and what we asked our boys too was just have some class. We wouldn’t want to be on the other side either, so you have to respect your opponent, you have to respect the game, and you know we had some really good efforts tonight.”

Finlay completed the hat trick at 6:15 in the third period for his 17th, and Trail forward Kale Howarth rounded out the scoring with 5:35 to play as a deflated crowd exited the storied rink.

Trail outshot Vernon 36-28 but Bailey MacBurnie, who has been Trail’s MVP all year, allowed six goals on 20 shots, and was replaced by Linden Marshall after 40 minutes.

“He is the reason we are in that game to begin with,” said Toneff. “He was a bit dehydrated at the end, so I’m not sure he was 100 per cent before the game, but there were tip-ins and point shots through traffic, I mean those aren’t easy to stop. I don’t think it was on Bailey, but he might wanted to have one or two of them back for sure.”

Trail was five points out of a playoff spot two weeks ago when the team fired head coach and GM Nick Deschenes. Two wins over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks put the Smokies in playoff contention.

“We kind of felt the buzz around town, and I’ve never felt that buzz around here to be honest, playing and coaching,” said Toneff. “People were talking. I’ve never seen that many butts in the seats, it was awesome to see, and great to hear the chant. It just goes to show you that if the game matters, people will come.”

For Vernon, the playoff berth comes at the end of a season that was at the best of times a struggle. Still, Snakes forward and Trail native Riley Brandt says the victory over his former team was as sweet as they come and is looking forward to the first-round match up against the Penticton Vees.

“It’s unreal, no better feeling coming in here and getting the win,” said Brandt, an alternate captan. “A lot of guys were nervous. Coming back to my home town I couldn’t even breathe on the way up here but it was great to get the victory…We had our ups and downs on the year, definitely tough, but it was great to pull through, and good way to end the year, to end up winning. Coming in here and getting the win, no better feeling.”

SNAKE BITES: Forward  Joe Sacco has committed to the University of New Hampshire for next season. The product of Reading, Mass. recorded 10 goals and 19 points in 56 games for the Vipers this season. Sacco will turn 20 on June 1…Pellah anchored the point on the powerplay and finished with four assists, giving him 38 points on the year, third best on the Vipers…Andrew Shortridge recorded 34 saves for his 19th win of the year…The Vipers have signed D Chris Jandric for next season. The younger brother of Viper F Steven Jandric compiled five goals and 34 points this season with the Major Midget Cariboo Cougars in Prince George. He looked very comfortable in two call-ups with Vernon.

 

Vernon Morning Star

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