Monday, 31 March 2014

Vipers Improve To 2 and 0 in Round Robin

The Vernon Vipers came into Sunday evening looking for a more consistent effort and thats exactly what they got.  They started strong, scored on the PP for the third straight game, received great goaltending and capitalized on some very generous bounces.  The Vipers have now won 3 straight games and put themselves in a very comfortable spot in the BCHL Round Robin Series.

The Vipers wanted a better start on home ice than they had Friday in Victoria and received it as they pushed the pace and fired a lot of pucks at Express goaltender Gordie Defiel.  It wasn't until a powerplay midway thru the period where the Vipers were able to put a puck past Defiel as Liam Coughlin swatted home a rebound to make it 1-0.  Then lady luck appeared for the Vipers as the Express hit the iron not once, but twice at the tail end of a powerplay and shortly before that Colton Sparrow swiped a puck off the goal line that slipped through Smith in a goalmouth scramble.  That was key because late in the first lady luck bit the Express once more as a point shot bounced off the end boards and as it trickled to the side of the net, Defiel tried to one hand the puck to the corner.  Problem was, he missed and the puck hit his skate and rolled across the line.  McNicholas was originally credited with the goal, but it was later to Dylan Chanter as the last Viper to touch the puck.  It was 2-0 Snakes after 1.

I thought the second period was a very even affair and one might give the edge to the Express in the frame.  Gordie Defiel wasn't tested as often, but Austin Smith sure was.  His biggest save was a toe save on a Ryan Rosenthal wrap around and the puck sat wedged between the post and the skate blade before the whistle was finally blown.  Smith would finish the period with 12 saves and the Vipers went to the dressing room leading by 2 after 2.

The Express came out flying to start the third and it was sparked by the Pieper brothers and Brendan Lamont.  Lamont came streaking down the wing and put a puck off the pads of Smith before Bo Pieper would elevate the rebound into the net just 36 seconds into the third to make it 2-1.  The Vipers received a key goal from Riley Guenther 6 minutes later to restore the 2 goal lead.  Michael McNicholas would extend the lead to 3, finishing off a 2 on 1 pass from Dexter Dancs.  The Vipers would then add 2 goals in the final minute from Colton Sparrow and Dexter Dancs to finish the Express off with a 6-1 final.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Good To Be Lucky - That phrase could be applied to the Vipers defensively and offensively as two goal posts kept the Express off the board and an awkward bounce off the end boards led to a goal.  At times this post season luck has not been on the Vipers side, but on Sunday evening they pace they set led to bounces in their favour.

2) - No More One Goal Games - Coming into this game the Vipers had essentially played in 4 consecutive goals that were decided by just a goal.  I know Game 6 of the Interior Finals was 2-0, but the second Penticton goal was an empty netter so I will include that one.  There have been some very tough games for this Viper team, but it was crucial to their confidence to be able to get a lead and put a team away late.  The Snakes would score 4 unanswered goals in the third.

3) - Perfect In Round Robin - The Vipers have now put all the pressure on the other two teams in the round robin.  The Vipers comfortably sit with two wins and have put themselves exactly where they want to be.  Now the focus find the Grizzlies and Express who play back to back Tuesday and Thursday.  There are quite a few different scenarios that could happen this week and too many to mention here, but either way this team is playing good hockey right now and is oh so close to the league finals.

Next up for the Vipers, well we're not too sure.  Tentatively the Vipers will host the Grizzlies Saturday night at 7pm, but that game will only occur if Coquitlam and Victoria split the Tuesday and Thursday games.  If one team was to win both, the round robin would end and the league final would start April 11th.  Keep an eye on the bchl website and the Vipers website for more info!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Vipers Get First Round Robin Win

It was probably a case of a team getting a victory when they really didn't play up to expectations.  For the Vernon Vipers, they'll take the win any day knowing full well they were a bit lucky to come out on top.  It was a five goal flurry from the Snakes that propelled them to a lead that they would manage to hold on to despite a barrage from the Grizzlies.  The first win is so important in this new round robin series as the first team to win three is essentially guaranteed a spot in the BCHL Finals.

The Vipers started the game looking like they had been off for 6 days.  Despite travelling down to the provincial capital a day earlier, they just seemed to start flat despite a powerplay to start the game.  It was a Grizzly powerplay that would get the scoring started as Jacob Kearley would walk into a howitzer from the left circle to beat Austin Smith and it was 1-0 Grizz.  Victoria continued to get shots at the Viper netminder and Smith looked very good in the opening 20.  The Vipers had some time in the offensive zone, but didn't generate many shots and found themselves trailing 1-0 after 1.

The message coming into the second was clearly shoot.  Vernon only had 3 shots in the first period and quickly changed that.  That mentality shift also resulted in a goal as Brett Mulcahy would get his initial pass back and snap a quick shot off the shoulder of Alec Dillon to square the game at 1 just 66 seconds into the second period.  A few minutes later a simple shot to the net from Josh Bryan was knocked home by Logan Mick parked in front to make it 2-1 Vernon.  As the game approached the midway point the Vipers were awarded a powerplay and after a very pretty passing play Dexter Dancs would score to make it 3-1 Vipes.  Just 22 seconds after that TJ Dumonceaux would steal a puck at the Grizzly blue line and find Demico Hannoun wide open in front and he would make no mistake to increase the lead to 4-1.  That would end the night for Alec Dillon.  He would be replaced by Nic Renyard who faired no better as on the first shot he faced Mason Blacklock took a shot from the right circle, through the legs of the defender and off the far post to make it 5-1 Vipers.  Vernon was well in front and essentially capitalized on every break and every bounce.  The Grizzlies pushed back in the period, but Austin Smith was great and had a little help from his cross bar who helped him out 3 times during the game.

Knowing full well no lead is safe in this league, Victoria came out flying.  There comeback was started on the powerplay as Jesse Schwartz would slide a puck past Smith to make it 5-2.  Another man advantage for Victoria saw them score again as Rory McGuire pounced on a loose puck in the slot to make it 5-3.  Just over 4 minutes later Victoria found themselves within 1 as Jacob Kearley scored his second of the game as he got a stick on a point shot and it bounced into the net to make it 5-4.  The Vipers were clearly reeling and holding on.  The Grizzlies threw everything at the net in the final 7 minutes, but a late powerplay for Vernon in the last minute put the game away as the Vipers managed to survive and take the game 5-4.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - 5 Goal Flurry - The Vipers had their best period in the second as they scored five goals on 11 shots.  It was a tough period for Victoria goaltending as Dillon fought the puck on a few shots.  The blame couldn't be put on his shoulders squarely as the Grizzlies were guilty of some turnovers in their own zone that the Vipers made them pay for.  It was also great to see a few players get their first goals of the playoffs.  Logan Mick, Mason Blacklock and Dexter Dancs all got their first goals and I'm sure they felt the weight of the goose egg come off their backs.  The game plan was simple.  Shoot the puck and crash the goal and it was extremely successful in the second period.

2) - Goaltending - In this game the battle of the netminders went to Austin Smith who made a number of huge saves when his team needed them.  It was contrarily a tough night for Victoria goaltending.  Rookie Alec Dillon finished his night with 8 saves on 12 shots, while Renyard fared better stopping 10 of 11.  Smith has played every minute of playoff hockey for Vernon this season and seems to be a steadying influence in the blue paint.  Nothing flashy, just effective.  His play was so impressive it garnered him 3rd star of the evening with 39 saves on 43 shots.

3) - Lady Luck - I don't think anyone would begrudge me for saying the Victoria Grizzlies were a better team on Friday night.  With an exception of 13 minutes in the second period, that is.  Unfortunately for the Island Division champs, they simply ran out of time.  Thanks to their effective powerplay and veteran triplet top line they took it to the Vipers with wave after wave of attacks.  The Vipers know they weren't at their best on this night and still were able to come away with a win.  I'd expect a much improved and consistent effort on Sunday against Coquitlam.

Next up for the Vipers is game 2 of the round robin against the Coquitlam Express at Kal Tire Place.  Note the start time for that game of 5 oclock.  You can catch all the action on 107.5 KissFM starting at 4:45 with the pregame show.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Vipers Stun Vees In OT and Win 4-3

This game and this series had a little bit of everything.  In this blog post I'll recap game 7 and give an overview of the series as a whole.  Game 7 was an emotional and dramatic affair with ups and downs for both clubs.  In the end it was a monumental comeback by the road team to equalize and win in overtime to take the series and the division title by a score of 4-3.

It was no surprise with the largest crowd of the series at the SOEC, that the home team would come out flying.  Both teams in the first minute or two had great jump and energy, but it was the Vees who capitalized first as Ben Dalpe snapped home a shot from the bottom of the circle at full speed to get Penticton up 1-0.  The Vipers responded just 16 seconds later as Brett Mulcahy re-directed a point shot through Olivier Mantha to tie it up.  Both teams traded chances in the remaining 17 minutes, but the score remained tied after 1.

I thought the Vees were a tad sharper in the second period and seemed to put an emphasis on getting speed through the neutral zone.  That would directly result in the go ahead goal as Cody DePourcq put home a nice pass from Brad McClure to make it 2-1 Penticton.  The Vipers had a glorious chances short handed as TJ Dumonceaux broke in but clanged iron.  The Vipers also had a disallowed goal as Tyler Povelofskie bumped Olivier Mantha as Persley put the puck in, but it was ruled incidental goalie contact.  No penalty and no goal, which upon further review seemed to be the right call.  The Vipers seemed like they just wanted to get to the intermission down by a goal and regroup, but the Vees caught the Vipers off a beautiful move by Erik Benoit to feed Steen Cooper and late in the period it was 3-1 Vees.

So it all came down to 1 period for the Vipers.  Down by 2 goals, it was essentially gut check time and it was interesting to see how each team would handle to the pressure.  The Vipers came out of the dressing room with sense of urgency.  They carried the flow of play for the majority of the period and when cycling in the offensive zone drew a penalty.  This was a key point of the game as the Vipers tried to chip into the deficit.  They were able to get within one off a nice pass from Michael McNicholas to Colton Sparrow at the near post and he made no mistake making the score 3-2.  It wasn't at that score very long as a shot and a rebound found its way to Brett Mulcahy and he elevated the puck over Mantha to tie the game up at 3.  Nothing else was solved in regulation and this game was destined for OT.

It wouldn't be a long OT as the Vipers would score 2 minutes into it as Dancs spun the puck in front to Michael McNicholas who snapped it by a surprised Mantha to give the Vipers the comeback win, the series win and a BCHL Interior Division Title.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Perseverance - Jason Williamson made a great point in the post game show, saying it would be easy for the team to just fold it up and get ready for the RBC, but the goal from this team has been the same from the get go.  They want to earn their way in.  They pushed the pace and capitalized on their chances.  I have yet to see quit in this team and they demonstrated that in game 7.

2) -  Hockey Fans - Between game 6 and 7 that players got to play in front of over 5000 people total.  That is a huge number.  I know for a fact that the players from both teams appreciated it and it motivated them to do everything they could to win for their respective fans.  The fans were treated to a great game in game 7.  How often do people get to say they watched an overtime in game 7?  It was a very special moment for everyone involved.

3) - Playoff Hockey At Its Finest - I'm going to outline a series recap further down the blog, but when you think of playoff hockey at any level, this series had a little bit of everything.

Series In Review

Game 1 - Vernon 4 Penticton 3 - SOEC
Game 2 - Penticton 5 Vernon 3 - SOEC
Game 3 - Penticton 4 Vernon 3 - KTP
Game 4 - Vernon 5 Penticton 2 - KTP
Game 5 - Vernon 3 Penticton 2 - SOEC
Game 6 - Penticton 2 Vernon 0 - KTP
Game 7 - Vernon 4 Penticton 3/OT - SOEC

This was a series that seemed to defy logic at times.  The team that scored first only won twice.  That stat in itself is an anomaly.  Also for two teams who were very good on home ice, each side only won once at home.  Their were numerous blown leads as neither team through most of this series seemed comfortable while ahead.  Either that or the team that was trailing was extremely comfortable.

This is a rivalry that was renewed for the first time in a few years and seemed to pick up right where they left off.  Both teams have immense respect for each other and it showed in the intensity.  Both coaching staffs really tried to match lines and do anything to get the advantage with last change.  It was an even matchup that could have gone either way.

I felt the Vipers played with a chip on their shoulder.  The Vees didn't take them lightly at all, but not too many people thought the Vipers would be in that situation.  That was the motivating factor for Vernon as they relished the underdog role.

My 3 Stars For The Series

1) - Persley, Sparrow, Mulcahy - After all of the production this line put up in round 1, it would be hard for that line to get anywhere near those point totals.  They didn't produce as much, but they were instrumental in the Vipers success.  Not only were they able to produce, but on most nights were able to limit the Vees top line.  The Vees are going to get their points, they are too good not to, but limiting their production is a victory in itself and those 20 years olds were able to do that.

2) - Brad McClure - He may be the most dynamic player in the BCHL.  Watching him 7 games in row, you truly get the sense of how special of a player he is.  He has the ability to carry his team if they need it and generates chances from no where.  Having talked with people around the Vees organization, its not just his contributions on the ice, but off as well.  Its not the way they wanted to go out, but he and the rest of the Vees moving on should hold their heads high as they move on to whatever comes next.

3) - Austin Smith - Considering he made his playoff debut against West Kelowna in game 1 of the Semi-Finals, he has played every minute in goal for the Vipers.  It can't be easy to make your first appearance in the playoffs in your final year of junior, but he truly seems to be thriving under these circumstances.  He has been rock solid in all 13 games he's played.  Shaken off the tough goals and made the saves he's supposed to make and even some of the ones he shouldn't be making.  Good goaltending is crucial to a successful playoff run and in the Interior Division Finals, I felt Smith was a bit better than the Vees goaltending.

The Vipers now find themselves in the BCHL Round Robin to determine the final two teams for the BCHL championship.  They will be in action Friday night in Victoria to face the only top seed remaining.  All the action is on 107.5 KissFM starting with the pregame show at 7 and play by play starting at 7:15

Friday, 21 March 2014

Vipers Win 3-2 and Lead Series By Same Number

A consistent effort, mixed with timely goals propelled the Vernon Vipers to a 3-2 series lead thanks to a 3-2 win at the SOEC on Thursday night.  The Viper top line of Coughlin, Dancs and McNicholas factored in on all 3 goals and Austin Smith made 21 saves on 23 to push the Penticton Vees to the brink of elimination.

Both teams had a good start to the game as they traded chances early.  It took just under 5 minutes to get a stoppage in play as the game had some very good pace.  The Vipers would get caught with too many men on the ice which resulted in a Vees powerplay.  Erik Benoit would bank home a rebound at the side of the net to give the Vees the opening goal for just the second time in the series.  That lead was short lived as Michael McNicholas would finish off a two on one just 23 seconds later.  The Vipers didn't get many shots on goal in the frame, just 4 after 20 minutes, but were deadlocked at 1.

The Vipers had a much better second period as Demico Hannoun would be robbed in front after a Vees turnover as Hunter Miska came across and made a fantastic save on the North Delta product.  That was key as the Vees would capitalize on a rebound in front as Steen Cooper scored his 4th of the playoffs to make it 2-1 Penticton.  The momentum would start to shift in the Vipers favour, but not before their penalty kill was tested.  With Jared Wilson and TJ Dumonceaux in the penalty box, the Vipers only allowed one shot on goal.  They would kill it off and some nice board work allowed Coughlin to walk out of the circle and let a shot right along the ice find its way five hole on Miska to tie it up with just 45 seconds left in the period.

The third was a defensive battle with neither team really pushing the pace as it looked like no one wanted to make the first mistake.  The Vipers were at their best at limiting the Vees offensive chances in the third as they would only allow 5 shots on goal.  The Vipers were able to capitalize on one mistake by the Vees who couldn't clear and a nice give and go from Coughlin and McNicholas as Coughlin would score his second of the night with just 3 and a half minutes left.  The Vees would get a too many men on the ice penalty in the final two minutes and the Vipers would skate away with a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series lead.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Controlled Effort - It was the type of game where the Vipers didn't have too many highs or too many lows.  They essentially played the same game for the entire 60 minutes.  They responded in timely fashion following 2 Penticton leads.  In important games when you get down, its important to keep and even keel.  The Vipers didn't panic when behind and seemed to have the confidence in their play to know they could come back.  Its that mentality that has seen them won the last two games and in a situation where with one more win they can eliminate the Vees.

2) - Turning Point - There are different points in a game where one could look back and say "thats where the game changed".  For me it was the 5 on 3 penalty kill for the Vipers.  Vernon was forced to kill 70 seconds of 5 on 3 time and not only did they kill it off, they only allowed one shot on goal.  That was key because the Vipers would then tie the game up late in the period.  This PK has been Jekyll and Hyde at times, but tonight it was the shift in momentum the Vipers would need.

3) - Top Line Magic - For most of this series, the focus has been on the Mulcahy, Sparrow and Persley line.  Well tonight, it was the Coughlin, McNicholas and Dancs show as that line was dominant in the offensive zone.  Not only did they factor in all 3 of the Viper goals, but they kept the puck nearly 200 feet from their own goal for the majority of their ice time.  This line was getting their chances, but not converting as much as they would like.  In Game 5 they were instrumental to the Vipers victory.

The Vipers will look to end the series Friday night at Kal Tire Place.  The pregame show starts at 6:45 on 107.5 KissFM

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Vipers Even Series With 5-2 Victory Over Vees

What a difference a day makes for the Vernon Vipers.  A night after giving up a two goal lead and being caught on their heels, the Vipers tightened up when it mattered and really quieted a Vees rally.  The Vipers spread the scoring around nicely and will ensure they get another home date scheduled for Friday night.

Just like a night before, the Vipers carried the play to start game 4.  They were buzzing around the Vees goal and hitting anything that moved.  Not only were they carrying the momentum, they were also generating shots on goal.  At one point in the period the shots were 10-2 Vipers which was more than half the shots they generated in game 3.  The Vipers scored first for the third time in the series as Brendan Persely fresh off the bench took a pass on the right circle and in full stride snapped a hard wrist shot through a screened Olivier Mantha.  The Vees would respond on the powerplay as Brett Beauvais fired a pass to the side of the net where Nic Pierog rifled a quick shot five hole on Austin Smith to tie it up.  That score would hold up through 20 minutes.

The second period was the best period for the Vees and saw them take the lead off a crazy pinball play where the puck rattled off the glass bounced to Serratore who was stopped then bounced to Alferd who flipped the puck past Smith.  The game settled in through the midway points of the period as both teams were fantastic defensively and both forechecks got in some licks on the defenders.  Momentum seemed to change after a gigantic body check from Dylan Chanter on Matt Serratore.  A clean, bone jarring check at the Viper line got the crowd and the Viper bench invigorated.  Credit to Serratore, he looked woozy, but missed maybe a shift but was back out there for the rest of the game.  The Vipers then hemmed the Vees in their own zone and it lead to a point shot from Riley Guenther that went post and in past a screened Mantha and the game was tied.  Less than two minutes later the Vipers again would hold the line and after a nice slap pass to McNicholas, the Vipers found themselves up 3-2 after 2 periods.

The pressure was on the home team in the third without question.  They desperately needed to hold this lead and even the series and they played like a team that had learned their lesson.  They played with energy and were tenacious in their own zone. They limited time and space for the Vees offensive players and were smart at exiting the zone.  Just like in game 1, it was Colton Sparrow giving the Vipers the key goal as he would fight of the corner and slip a changeup past Mantha to give the Vipers a crucial two goal lead.  Brendan Persley would tack on an empty netter and the final score would end 5-2 to even the series at 2 games apiece.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Consistent Effort - The Vipers had one win under their belt in the series, but I thought this was by far their best all around effort.  From the goaltender out, the team just seemed to be on the same page at all times.  At times during this series the Vipers had been guilty of letting off the gas pedal and allowing the Vees to dominate in the offensive zone.  Tonight was a different story.  They out shot the Vees for the first time in the series and kept the top line of Benoit, McClure and Cooper off the board for the first time.  The Vipers will need more of the same effort to win the series because they will have to win at least one more time at teh SOEC.

2) - Brad McClure - This guy is a dynamic hockey player.  He has the ability to carry a team on his shoulder.  This is not meant to call him out, but more put into perspective how good the Vipers played on this night.  For the first time in 12 games, dating back to the regular season, Brad McClure was held pointless.  He has 24 points in those 12 games which averages to two points a game over that stretch.  Thats an incredible streak.  The Vipers barely allowed him a sniff in game 4 and ended the point scoring streak.  You don't keep a guy like McClure off the score sheet often and the Vipers will have to keep limiting his chances in whats become a best of 3 series.

3) - Defensive Tandem - Its a big honor for defensemen to be tasked with shutting down a teams top line.  Tonight it was Riley Guenther and Josh Bryan who were out there almost everytime the Vees top line was out.  Not only did they accomplish that feat, they both chimed in with offensive contributions with Riley Guenther scoring the tying goal in the second period and Josh Bryan setting up two goals.  At this point in the playoffs you need different guys to step up and tonight it was those two on the defensive and offensive side.

This series has now become a best of 3 with the series heading back to Penticton for game 5.  It happens Thursday night at the SOEC and you can hear all the action starting at 6:45 with the pregame show and play by play starting at 7 on 107.5 KissFM.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Vees Rally And Take Game 3

For the third straight game in this series, the Vernon Vipers held a 3-1 lead, but for the second straight game the Penticton Vees would mount a come back and win.  This game stings for the Vipers who were 6 minutes away from taking a 2-1 series lead.  They couldn't hold it and now its the Vees who have a 2-1 series lead heading into a huge game 4.

The Vipers had the perfect start on home ice as they came out flying.  The forecheck was great, they were throwing the body around and they were able to score first as TJ Dumonceaux would finish off a 2 on 1 to make it 1-0 Vernon just before the game was 2 minutes old.  The Vees to their credit responded quickly  as a nice third line shift resulted in Matt Serratore rifling a one timer from the slot through Austin Smith and the game was tied.  Less than three minutes later the Vipers would get another odd man rush as Brendan Persley would misfire on the first shot, but center it from behind the red line and bank it in off Hunter Miska and the Vipers led 2-1.  Just over two minutes after that on the PP, Brett Mulcahy would find a rebound at the side of the net and the Vipers were up 3-1 before the period was half over.  Once the period hit the 10 minute mark however, the Vees seemed to play with a little bit more energy.  Fred Harbinson pulled Miska and that seemed to spark them.  The first period would end 3-1 Vipers.

The comeback wasn't immediate for Penticton as the Vipers did a nice job of keeping the Vees to the outside.  Penticton carried most of the play in the period, but it was a powerplay goal from Brad McClure that would get the Vees within one.  McClure would then be penalized for a double minor high sticking penalty late in the period, but the Vees were able to kill it off and the period ended 3-2.

For a good chuck of the third period, I thought the Vipers handled the pressure of the Vees very well.  The levee finally broke as Cody DePourcq made a strong move out of the corner and cut in front to slip a puck under Austin Smith and with just under 6 minutes to play the game was tied.  The momentum continued to build for the Vees as Matt Serratore would score his second of the game off a rebound to complete the comeback and give Penticton a 4-3 lead.  The Vipers had a few chances with the goalie pulled, but Olivier Mantha was able to shut the door as the Vipers fell 4-3 to the Vees.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Another Lead Slips Away - The most frustrating part for this Viper team is the fact that they have led for a good portion of this series, yet find themselves down 2-1 through three games.  First periods have not been the issues, but continuing with the full 60 minute effort hasn't been there.  You can look at it one of two ways: 1) The Vees pressure is just too much to deal with or 2) The Vipers just aren't keeping the foot on the gas.  For whatever reason the Vipers just can't seem to hold onto a 2 goal lead that they get early in games.  Its getting close to gut check time.  The Vipers know this series could be in their favour, but now have to work their tales off to ensure if they get a lead, they hold onto it.

2) - Goaltending - Another anomaly of this series has been the play of Penticton goaltending through 30 minutes.  For the third time in four meetings, the Vees starting goalie has been lifted after give up 3 goals on less than 10 shots.  The other side of the coin is that the goalie that comes into the game shuts the door and keeps the team in it.

3) - Home Ice - Kal Tire Place was electric in the first period of game 3.  The Vipers fed off of it and carried the flow of play through the first 10 minutes and were rewarded because of it.  All year long this team has thrived at home.  The Vipers will need that home ice good fortune for game 4 to send it back to Penticton tied up at 2.

Game 4 is set to go Tuesday night at 7 pm at Kal Tire Place.   You can hear all the action on 107.5 KissFM.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Vipers Downed 5-3, Series Tied At 1

When it comes to breaking down game 2 of the Interior Division Final, one must look at many different variables.  Both teams had legitimate gripes with officials, a two goal lead disappeared late in the second period, the Viper penalty kill was clutch, as was their PP, but at the end of all that, it was the Vees coming out on top of a hard fought battle to win the game 5-3.  So lets start from the beginning:

The game started out with nice pace.  Both teams were rolling their lines and moving the puck well through the neutral zone.  In attempt to establish a forecheck, TJ Dumonceaux would finish a check, unfortunately for the Viper forward the Vee player was in the process of stopping up and he would hit with a check from behind penalty and a game misconduct.  There was no intent, but it dealt a big blow to the Viper depth at the center position.  The Vipers would kill of the powerplay and despite being out chanced thanks to the PP, the Vipers would score first.  Dylan Chanter with a shot from the right point would handcuff Hunter Miska and slide through for his second goal in as many games making it 1-0.  That lead was shortlived as Steen Cooper would pot home a rebound to tie it up just under 2 minutes later.  Things got a little heated as two straight penalties would be called against the Vees in 34 seconds, that had the home team upset, but when you get dealt a chance on the man advantage you have to make good and Colton Sparrow would do just that to make it 2-1 late in the period.

Things would settle down a bit as both teams tried to re-establish the flow of the game.  That seemed to be the case through the first half of the second period before another Vees penalty would result in a powerplay for Vernon.  The Vipers would execute a nice passing play allowing Brett Mulcahy to put the puck into the empty net to make it 3-1.  Vernon did a nice job of limiting the chances of Penticton after that keeping them to the outside, but as can be the case against a talented squad like the Vees, it doesn't take much for the tide to turn.  Steen Cooper would get the Vees within one with a tidy re-direction that just crossed the line to make it 3-2.  The Vees then struck again 64 seconds later as they were able to stretch out the Viper D allowing Brad McClure to get the tying goal.

The Vees started the third on a 5 on 3 powerplay and thanks to a few big saves from Austin Smith, the game remained 3-3.  Unfortunately, they couldn't gain much momentum from the kill as Riley Alferd drove to the net and just squeaked the puck under the arm of Smith to give Penticton their first lead of the game.  Then cue the controversy.  The Vees would crash the crease and a loose puck seemed to be controlled by Smith, the next thing anyone knows is the puck crosses the line and the referee points as a goal.  From where I'm situated, I have no idea how that crossed the line, but we'll talk about it in my three thoughts.  With 14 minutes to play and the Vipers down by 2, the Vees clogged up the neutral zone and limited the chances for the Vipers.  The deficit was too much to overcome and the Vees would take game 2 by a 5-3 final.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - The Goal - Lets just get it over with, the argument from the Vipers bench was that the puck was gloved into the net.  Now I've seen this team play all year long and the coaching staff is usually quite docile on the bench.  Its not very often we've seen any of the three very demonstrative.  Tonight was different, Kris Mallette was ejected and both Jason Williamson and Dave Robinson were up in arms.  Upon review it did look like that goal could've been waved off and that their issue was legitimate.  A one goal deficit is much preferred to a two goal deficit and it really affected Vernons ability to try claw back.  At the end of the day, nothing can be done but move on.  The team will need to shake that off and prepare for a huge battle in game 3 at home.

2) - The Comeback - For the second straight game, the Vernon Vipers found themselves up by a 3-1 score.  Unlike the previous matchup, the Vees were able to tie it up and eventually win.  I don't think it was how the Vipers played, but more of how the Vees learned from the night before.  The cycle game wasn't really working for them, so they found a way to stretch it out and score on the rush.  Led by their top line, the Vees struck for two in 64 seconds to tie it up before the intermission, which was huge.  Vernon has been very good at holding leads this season, but things can change quickly.  The Vipers will learn from what happened in game 2 and make the necessary adjustments just in case the same situation arises later in the series.

3) - Business Is Picking Up - When you strip away the issues both teams had with the officials and the controversy surrounding those plays, what you're left with is two very talented teams who are finally starting to develop a dislike for each other.  Game 1 was emotional, but paled in comparison to game 2.  Verbal sparring and punches after whistles came to the forefront.  Both teams know they deserve to be there and will fight tooth and nail to move onto the next round.  If allowed to, these two teams are capable of putting on a stellar show that fans of both teams can truly enjoy.

Game 3 of this series goes Monday night at Kal Tire Place.  If you can't make it down to the rink, all the action will be on 107.5 KissFM starting at 6:45 with the pregame show and play by play at 7.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Vipers Grab 1-0 Series Lead Following 4-3 Win

It was a game taking advantage of mistakes as the Vernon Vipers scored 3 goals in 4 and a half minutes to start the second period and held off the onslaught of the Vees for a 4-3 victory in front of 2071 fans at the SOEC.

The Vees started strong as Ben Dalpe scored just 29 seconds in off a wrist shot from the right circle.  The Vipers looked tentative early and battled the puck in their own zone.  The Vees had the edge in time of possession and shots, but after the opening goal didn't get many grade A chances.  The Vipers on the other hand didn't get many looks offensively, despite two powerplays which looked dangerours but couldn't convert.

The Vipers came out of the intermission firing and carried the play in the first five minutes and it would pay dividends.  Just 26 seconds in Dylan Chanter would score his first as a Viper and first of the postseason with a slapper from the point.  37 seconds after that Liam Coughlin would re-direct a point shot from Mason Blacklock to give Vernon a 2-1 lead.  Three and a half minutes later Michael McNicholas would steal a puck in the Penticton zone and snap a shot five hole on Olivier Mantha to give the Vipers a 3-1 lead less than 5 minutes in.  That would spell the end of the night for Mantha as Fred Harbinson would swap goaltenders and put in Hunter Miska.  Ironically, it was the last shot the Vipers would get in the period.  It was then Austin Smiths turn to shine as he turned aside all 16 shots he faced and many quality chances as the Vees started to buzz.  The period would come to a close with Vernon lead 3-1.

The Vees started the period with urgency, but the goal would come off a lucky bounce as a ricochet off the end boards hopped over Kenny Citrons stick and right to Brad McClure who would out wait Smith and get the Viper lead down to 1.  Vernon responded  just under three minutes later as Colton Sparrow finished off a fantastic individual effort to drive the net and slip the puck under Hunter Miska to restore the two goal lead.  That goal would prove crucial as both teams traded odd man rushes that didn't result in goals.  The Vipers would get caught on a defensive miscue and Max Coatta would steal a puck and snap it past Smith to make it 4-3 with less than 4 minutes to play.  The Vees threw everything at the net in the final moments of the game just couldn't get the puck to settle as the Vipers would hang on for a 4-3 win.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Turnovers - Both teams were guilty of turnovers that led to goals.  There are two ways to look at it: 1) The forechecks were outstanding causing those mistakes or 2) the teams were just uncharacteristically sloppy in their own end.  I thought it was a combination of both.  For both teams it was an eye opener to be prepared for the forecheck and to exit the zones up the boards instead of up the middle.

2) - Unassisted Aplenty - The final four goals of the game were all unassisted.  It was an example of how important burying your chances truly is.  Mistakes, lucky bounces and fantastic efforts were the foundation of those goals.  

3) - Rebounding - For the second straight time at the SOEC, the Vipers were able to bounce back after giving up the opening goal on the first shot of the game.  They were able to do it back on Valentines day with a 2-1 win and again Friday in a 4-3 victory.  When early goals go in, its all about how a team reacts.  Its easy to get your head down and dwell on it, but the Vipers have the right mentality by quickly putting those goals behind them and refocusing on the game.  

Game 2 of the Interior Division Final goes Saturday night on 107.5 KissFM.  The pregame show starts at 5:45 with play by play starting at 6. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Vipers Eliminate Warriors With 5-0 Victory

What a difference 24 hours made for the Vernon Vipers who missed out on a chance to eliminate the Warriors in game 5, but rebounded with a very nice 60 minute effort to move onto the next round.

The game started off quite slow with the exception of some pressure by the Warriors to start.  Austin Smith had to make some pad saves and got to feel the puck early.  The Vipers then grabbed some of that momentum and fired a few on Cody Porter.  The Vipers would get the first goal of the game as Brett Mulcahy driving to the net had the puck go in off of his mid section.

The middle period overall was an even affair with the Vipers capitalizing on their chances.  Just after a key penalty kill ended Michael McNicholas found a loose puck and fed Persley in front to give the Vipers a 2-0 lead.  The lead would increase again as Demico Hannoun was stopped on a breakaway but TJ Dumonceaux was there to put the rebound in and the Vipers led 3-0 after 40 minutes.

In previous games, the trailing team would come out like a house on fire, but the Vipers pushed the pace to make sure the Warriors couldn't generate much momentum.  Liam Coughlin would get the fourth goal of the game off a shot from the right circle.  On a powerplay a few minutes later Brendan Persley would re-direct a pass from Colton Sparrow past Porter for his second of the game.  That would end it as the Vipers skated away witha 5-0 win and a 4-2 series win.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Finished At Home - The Vipers were clearly disappointed with their effort in game 5, but there was no panic for them knowing their home record was very good.  This is a good team on the road, but there is something different about this squad when playing on Kal Tire Place ice.  They've got a home ice swagger that is contagious and spreads through all 20 players.  They will need that type of home ice effort in the next round of the playoffs.

2) - Austin Smith - Rylan Ferster mentioned in the pregame show that neither goaltender in the series had stolen a game for their respective teams, well that wasn't the case after game 6 as Austin Smith was perfect.  He turned aside all 29 shots he faced and seemed to gain confidence with every stop.  In his first foray into junior playoffs, he was great at shaking off games that didn't go the Vipers way.  Following a loss in the series he gave up 1 goal and a shut out respectively.  He will be heavily relied upon in the next round.

3) - Next Up - The road to the RBC doesn't get any easier for the Vipers who now get set to square off with the Penticton Vees.  The Vees won the season series, but the Vipers had won the last two matchups in a span of 8 days.  The Vees play a lot like the Warriors from an offensive standpoint although they're not quite as injured as the Warriors were.  Without a doubt, this series will be a dandy.

Game 1 of the Interior Division Finals will go Friday night at the SOEC.  Puck drop will be determined a bit later on.  All the action will be on 107.5 KissFM.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Vipers Fall 4-1 To Warriors In Game 5

Game 5 was a completely different experience from the previous 4 games in the Vipers/Warriors series.  For the first time all series we saw stick work penalties called.  Calls that weren't made in the first four game were made many times over in game 5.  Another anomaly was no scoring in the opening period.  Unfortunately for the Vipers some similar trends crept into the game and it would favour the Tribe on this night.

The first period was a very tidy one for both sides.  A few good chances early, then some nice defense and relatively quiet period with not much in the way of extra curricular activity slowing play down.  The play would slow, but not until the second period.  Both goaltenders had to be solid, yet  not spectacular and it looked like we were in store for a prototypical tight checking elimination game with neither team wanting to make a mistake.

Then cue the penalty parade.  The Vipers were handed 6 penalties for various infractions and that combined with a nice effort from the Warriors swung the momentum heavily in the home teams favour.  Now when presented with opportunities, the good teams take advantage and West Kelowna did.  After some nice movement on the PP Kylar Hope was able to heel in a backdoor pass from Jason Cotton to open the scoring.  That goal spread more life to the Warriors as they caused a turnover in the Viper zone and David Pope, who had done everything but score in the first 4 games, scored to make it 2-0.  Pope wasn't done as on another PP he let a nicely placed wrist shot go from the circle past Austin Smith, who didn't see it for a second and it was quickly 3-0.  A nice cycle play from the Warriors had their captain Matt Anholt extend the lead again and after 40 mins it was 4-0.

As we've seen in the series before, the team trailing came out like a house on fire as the Vipers stormed the Warriors.  Brendan Persley would somehow find a puck in a wild scramble in front as make it 4-1 just 87 seconds in.  The penalty parade started the other way as the Warriors took three straight minor penalties, but the Vipers just couldn't capitalize.  It actually took until the third PP before they started to move the puck with urgency.  The clock then became the enemy and with some nice shot blocking and good goaltending the Warriors were able to extend their season by at least another day with a 4-1 win.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Adapting - I didn't think the Vipers did a good enough job of adapting to the way the referees were calling the game.  Thats not to say the refs weren't doing a good job, but it was called much differently that games 1-4.  I thought both teams had some problems adjusting, but in the second period alone the Vipers spend at least half that period short handed.  Not every referee sees things the same way and the Vipers are going to have to learn that quickly heading into game 6.  Adapting to things you can't control is imperative to a team primed for a long run, we'll see if they learn the lesson tomorrow.

2) - 2 Guys Back - They didn't play big minutes, but they didn't have to.  Ryan Ivey and Jason Cotton made their returns to the West K lineup and it seemed just their presence was a boost for a Warrior team that came in hurting.  Adding much needed depth up front and on the blue line I thought both players played prominent, yet quiet roles.  The Warriors are still extremely banged up and who knows what the game day sheet will say tomorrow, but for a team that needed a boost, West Kelowna received it in the play of those two.

3) - Too Easy - Due to the injury to Andy Desautels, the Warriors were forced to start rookie Cody Porter.  He played well in relief in game 4, but was under immense pressure in an elimination game on home ice.  He was good, but at times had it too easy.  Not much traffic in front and shots from outside.  He only had to make 3 saves in the middle period.  He may be young and inexperienced, but he is still a goalie that clearly deserves to be at this level.  The Vipers have to put everything at the net in game 6 and provide more traffic if they want to beat this young netminder.

Game 6 goes Tuesday night at Kal Tire Place.  You can hear all the action starting at 6:45 on 107.5 KissFM.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Vipers Push Tribe To The Brink With 4-1 Win

It was a night of similarities for the Vernon Vipers as once again they carried a lead into the final 20 minutes, but unlike a night before, the team cinched up defensively, got some timely saves from their goaltender and sat on it through the remaining twenty minutes.

The Vernon Vipers nearly scored on their first shift of the game as Michael McNicholas rang a shot from the slot right off the iron.  The Vipers would score first for the third straight game as Colton Sparrow would bang home a loose puck at the side of the net.  Key on that goal was traffic in front of Desautels, the Warrior netminder didn't see it until the last moment and couldn't steer the rebound where he wanted it.  At the 14 minute mark was where some controversy snuck into the game.  I'll speak more about it in my three thoughts, but Andy Desautels was crashed into which resulted in an incidental contact play, where the goal was called off.  Unfortunately for the Warriors, Desautels was shaken up and would leave the game with an upper body injury and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which injury it truly is.  Cody Porter would come in relief and play very well and be tested early.  Late in the frame the Vipers would get a 2 on 1 rush which Sparrow would successfully finish off to give the Snakes a 2-0 lead after 1 period.

It was a pretty even middle period with both teams getting chances.  The save of the game came from Austin Smith as he somehow kept a wraparound attempt from his belly as he got the blade of his stick on it and kept it on the line.  The Vipers anemic powerplay would get a chance to go to work for the second time and after some nice passing Coughlin put in his first of the playoffs to make it 3-0.  

The Vipers essentially shut it down in the third.  They didn't push too much, but played smart defensively.  The Warriors pushed the pace and worked the boards nicely and eventually it led to a goal as Kylar Hope made a nice play to the middle of the ice and lifted a backhand over Austin Smith.  The Warriors pulled Porter early trying to get back into the game, but TJ Dumonceaux would score into the empty net to make the final score 4-1 and give the Vipers a 3-1 series lead.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Persley, Mulcahy and Sparrow - This line of 20 year olds has been absolutely fantastic.  It was Mulcahy in Game 3, but in game 4 it was Colton Sparrow.  In an emotional playoff series, you look to your veteran guys to lead the charge and not only are they doing it from a leadership standpoint, they are doing it on the scoreboard.  Without question this has been the line that has given the Warriors fits and contributed to getting the Vipers the lead.

2) - Another Injury - I will start by saying depending on who you cheer for will depend on what you thought of the injury to Andy Desautels.  The play had Dexter Dancs driving the net to receive a pass in close, he attempted to pull it backhand and as he was heading thru the crease ran into Desautels as he was tryign to bank the puck in.  There are two ways to view it.  1) - Its Dancs responsibility to avoid a collision at all cost - I would challenge that by saying if ANY player in this league had a chance to score a goal and risk running in the goaltender, not a single one would give up that opportunity.  2) - It was a hockey play with no intent and its just another unfortunate injury - I watched the footage, my feeling is number 2.  Once again I feel some people will see it either of these ways and not be wrong in thinking that.  The important thing is the health of the goalie and I sincerely hope that Desautels isn't out for too long.

3) - Vipers Hope To End It In Game 5 - The sign of a team that wants to make a big run through the post season is putting a team away when they have the chance.  Given the circumstances, the Vipers do not want to play a game 6 at home.  In the playoffs, especially the way its been scheduled, rest will be at a premium and the Vipers will want it as much as possible.  Having said that, they will have to be at their absolute best in what will be a very hostile environment.

Game 5 will go Monday at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna.  You can hear all the action starting at 6:45 on 107.5 KissFM.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Mulcahy Scores 4 in 6-4 Victory For Vipers

The Vernon Vipers got out to a comfortable lead in game 3 of the Interior Division Semi-Finals, but the end was all but that.  The Warriors scratched and clawed their way to get within a hair of tying the game before an empty net goal would seal the victory for the home team.

The Vipers struck very early as Brett Mulcahy was able to bank home a rebound just 22 seconds into the game.  A few minutes later Demico Hannoun would score on a rebound as well and the Vipers were off and running leading 2-0 after 1.

The Vipers stretched their lead as TJ Dumonceaux knocked in a rebound early in the second to increase the lead to 3-0.  Three minutes later Mulcahy would get his second of the night off a goalpost rebound to pace the home team to a very comfortable lead.  It seemed like the Vipers were well on their way, but the Warriors had other plans.  Just after a few minutes of powerplay time Reid Simmonds would find a loose puck at the side of the net to break the goose egg and get the Warriors on the board.  It was 4-1 after 2 period.

The third period was essentially all Warriors.  They played with a little desperation and it was effective as Carl Hesler scored less than 90 seconds into the frame.  The Vipers I thought managed the clock pretty well, but were caught playing a little soft and sloppy in their own zone and the Warriors would capitalize as Liam Blackburn would finish off a rebound to make it 4-3.  Brett Mulcahy quickly restored the two goal lead with his second hat trick in as many nights to make it 5-3.  A powerplay goal from Liam Blackburn got the Warriors within one again, but an empty netter from Mulcahy would make the final score 6-4.

My Three Key Thoughts

1) - Momentum Swings - The Vernon Vipers without question were the better team through about 35 minutes.  That momentum would get the team out to a 4-0 lead.  Late in the second, the Warriors would swing that in their favour and they were the better team for the final 25 minutes.  The depleted Warriors roster put everything they could at Austin Smith and continued to climb back into a game that at one point didn't look they had any chance.  Hats off to a team that could have folded when getting down by 4, but their vets rallied the troops and we'll see who gets the momentum in game 4.

2) - Brett Mulcahy - This kid can play.  Known to score, but not known as a sniper, Brett Mulchay has single hand idly led the offensive charge for the Vipers.  With 3 goals in game 2 and 4 in game 3, the Kelowna product is showing why many teams tried to acquire him at the trade deadline.  Its not just his scoring prowess, but his ability to win faceoffs and his stellar hockey IQ in the defensive zone.  Right now on a line with Persley and Sparrow, the veterans are bringing the energy at every turn and are very deserving of the ice time.

3) - Quite Fortunate - At the end of the day, the Vernon Vipers are happy to have the win and a 2-1 series lead, but they will be unhappy of how close the game ended up being.  When you're up 4-0 at any point, with a roster that the Vipers have and the injured roster the Warriors have, you expect to be able to tighten up and finish them off, that wasn't the case whatsoever.  The Vipers admittedly weren't very good in their own end and took their foot off the gas once they were up to a 4-0 lead, but credit has to go to the Warriors who didn't quit and forced the issue.  It'll be interesting to see if the Warriors build off the fact that despite being shorthanded, they gave Vernon all they can handle.  Contrarily, can the Vipers elevate their game beyond the effort of game 3.  Game 4 will be fun.

Speaking of game 4, it all begins at 7 oclock at Kal Tire Place.  If you can't make it to the rink of course you can tune in on 107.5 KissFM starting at 6:45 with the pregame show.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Vipers Rebound To Tie Series After 4-1 Win

The Vernon Vipers did a fantastic job of putting Tuesday nights game behind them.  They rebounded nicely with a complete 60 minute effort that saw them outshoot and outchance a Warrior squad which found themselves banged up at the final buzzer.

The first period saw some nice free flow between teams very reminiscent of the beginning of Tuesdays game as the feeling out process began.  Although unlike the night before I thought the Vipers were skating harder, pressuring more effectively and limiting the quality chances of the Warriors to just a handful.  The Vipers would take advantage of a rare Warrior mistake as a turnover at the right circle was snapped home by Brett Mulcahy past a surprised Andy Desautels to make it 1-0.

The Vipers would get a powerplay early on in the second period and kept the plan of attack really simple.  Shoot and crash the crease.  That philosophy worked to perfection as Brett Mulcahy put home a rebound in the crease after a point shot to make it 2-0 Vernon.  That seemed to spark the Vipers even more as Brendan Persley started and finished a pretty play by blocking a shot and turning it the other way to snap home his first of the post season to make it 3-0.  The Warriors had a few shifts in a row in the offensive zone after the Persley goal and that pressure paid off as Matt Anholt found a rebound and made it 3-1 after 2.

The Vipers did a nice job in the third of nursing the lead without playing a lot of time in the defensive zone.  They didn't necessarily push the pace, but sure didn't sit back on their heels.  There would be a five minute major for kneeing assessed to Dallas Calvin (which I'll speak of later) and that allowed the Warriors to finish the game on the man advantage, but some nice board work from Sparrow kicked the puck to centre and Mulcahy would score his third of the night into an empty net to make it 4-1 and tie the series up at 1.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - What a Difference 24 Hours Made - That alone sums up the performance of the Vipers.  They were much better in every zone forechecking more effectively, slowing down the Warrior break out and staying disciplined while playing extremely physical.  All 4 lines were rolling for the Vipers and they seemed in control for a good part of this game.

2) - Injury Bug Strikes Tribe - By the end of the game, the Warriors were without arguably their best defenseman and most consistent forward.  Adam Plant and Seb Lloyd were both injured during the game and neither one were able to skate off on their own.  For Plant it came from a clean check from Colton Sparrow and was just an unfortunate injury.  As for Seb Lloyd, it was one of those freak knee on knee collisions where Dallas Calvin went to throw a body check and as Lloyd tried to get out of the way went knee on knee.  The result was a 5 minute major and Lloyd in a significant amount of pain.  There was no update on either conditions, but I will say there was no intent to injure on the part of Calvin who was just attempting a run of the mill body check.  Its unfortunate to see those players get injured and for the Warriors it only adds to the laundry list of injured players.

3) - Back To Kal Tire - For the Vipers the series split was crucial, they now head back to the friendly confines that only saw them lose 6 times in regulation on home ice.  The Warriors were only able to get two points during the regular season in Kal Tire Place, a 2-2 tie and a 3-2 OT loss.  Jason Williamson said that the team needs to have a short memory for the bad things and the good things, but can't forget what made them successful in Game 2.  The Warriors are banged up, but still have a lot of depth and will do all they can to steal home ice advantage back.

Game 3 goes Friday night from Kal Tire Place starting at 6:45 with the pregame show and puck drop at 7 on 107.5 KissFM.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Vipers Trail Series 1-0 After 5-1 Loss.

For the Vernon Vipers, following game 1 of the Interior Division Semi-Final all that can be done is press delete.  It wasn't the effort the team was looking for and really the only way to go is up.  

The first period started out as a chess match as both teams felt each other out and tried to get the ever valuable momentum.  It swung in the Warriors favour following a boarding penalty and just moments later Carl Hesler would bank it a shot from beside the net to make it 1-0 West K.  Credit West K for keeping the foot on the gas as they put pucks from everywhere to the net.  Austin Smith was busy in the Viper crease and made 16 of 17 saves in the frame.

The second period was more of an even affair as the Vipers and Warriors traded chances and the ice opened up a bit.  It had some nice flow and a lot of physicality and grit.  Once again however, the Vipers would get into penalty trouble late in the period and Adam Plant would increase the lead to two.  Moments later a slashing penalty in the offensive zone would lead to another powerplay goal as Seb Lloyd finished off a beautiful passing play making it 3-0 after 2.

The trend was starting to show, the Warrior powerplay was fantastic and the Viper penalty kill was struggling.  But despite being down by 3, the Vipers came out with a nice start as TJ Dumonceaux banged home a rebound to cut the deficit to 3-1, but as was the case all night penalty trouble would be the Vipers undoing as Adam Plant would score his second goal of the night followed minutes later by another tally from Seb Lloyd also on the man advantage.  That would seal the game with a 5-1 final and a 1-0 series lead for West Kelowna.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - One Team Came To Play - I don't want it to seem like I'm calling out the Vipers, but anyone who listened or watched the game saw one team come to play and the other seem lost at times.  The Warriors seemed to have a game plan from the beginning and executed it very well.  The Vipers seemed disjointed and uncomfortable and the top players couldn't get much in the way of sustained pressure.

2) - Warrior Powerplay Clutch - Officially the West Kelowna powerplay was 5 for 6, but it really should've been 5 for 5 on the night.  When a team takes penalties you always hope to be able to make them pay for the lack of discipline and the Warrirors did exactly that.  Smart passes, getting pucks to the net from all angles and winning key faceoffs directly effected the man advantage.  The Vipers will have to either stay out of the box more in game 2 or make some major adjustments to a PK that ended the season 9th overall.

3) - Tomorrow's Another Day - Thank goodness for quick turnarounds.  The Vipers will get a chance at redemption less than 24 hours after the loss.  They'll watch film and make adjustments, but the key thing the Vipers will have to do is stay mentally focused.  When they all seem to be focused on the task, this team is nearly unbeatable, but when they stray from their game they get burned.  The playoffs can be a grind and one loss doesn't mean the end of the world, but after game 1, the Vipers are needing a much better effort.

All the action of game 2 starts at 6:45 with the pregame show and 7 oclock puck drop on 107.5 KissFM.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Vipers First Round Preview

The Vernon Vipers will square off with the West Kelowna Warriors tonight for the first game of a best of seven series for the Interior Division Semi-Finals.

Vernon Vipers

The Vipers come in having finished the regular season with a 30-18-4-6 record good for third place in the Interior Division.  Overall the Snakes had a nice bounce back from last season and will make their first post season appearance in three seasons.

Coming into a season that sees the team hosting the RBC Cup, the mentality around the team was going about their business the right way.  This team wants to win their way into the RBC Cup and not just rely on the status of tournament host.  They accomplished the first part of their goal by clinching a playoff spot and look to build upon that.

Offensively the Vipers were led by first year Viper Michael McNicholas.  The Manhattan Beach, California product had 23 goals and 46 assists finishing 6th in league scoring. His linemate Dexter Dancs finished right behind him in 7th thanks to a torrid finish to the season.

Defense could be where this team is at its most dangerous.  They are towering and physical defensemen who never shy away from physicality.  At times they may need to focus on restraint to keep that physicality within the rules, but the wear down and grinding style of hockey could be the perfect fit for the playoff format that sees 7 games played in 9 nights.

In goal, both Austin Smith and Danny Todosychuk had very solid campaigns and were steadying forces for the team.  Coming into the season it was going to be interesting to see how the coaching staff would manage the starts between two guys who could be starters on any other team in the league.  Had it not been for a handful of injuries at different times I thought they were going to split 50/50.  In the end Austin Smith got 10 more games played.  Being able to put either of the guys in there will only serve this team well and it remains to be seen who will be the guy by the time 7 oclock rolls around.

Special teams have been a Jekyll and Hyde scenario where the powerplay sputtered all year long, while the PK has had flashes of brilliance and sections of struggles.  Their PP would end the season last in the BCHL, while the PK was 9th.  The one thing the Vipers will look at is there is no where to go but up when it comes to the man advantage.  They will put it behind them and look to have it make an impact.

West Kelowna Warriors

The West Kelowna Warriors came within a hair of their first division title.  They had a record of 35-15-3-5 which was tied for top spot in the division with the Vees having one more win as the tie breaker.  It was a steady improvement for the Tribe who increased their wins by 5 and point total by 5.

Despite not having the pressure of hosting the RBC Cup, there was definitely pressure for the Tribe to build on the success they had a year before.  Losing guys like Max French, Tyler Briggs and Shawn Hochhausen left the team with holes to fill and credit to the managment staff they were able to replenish the stock as well as have them fit in nicely with the returning players.  Rylan Ferster has told me all he wants to do is make the playoffs, although I think part of that was just being humble and politically correct because he had to know how talented his team really was.  They were able to do that quite early and give Penticton a constant run for their money for the division and despite coming up just a bit short, this team is poised and ready for a long playoff run.

From an offensive standpoint there are many triggermen on this team and were led by Harvard commit and third year Warrior, Seb Lloyd.  The Prince George product was the only Warrior to post over 60 points and is a set up man to the other offensive guys on this team.  Newcomers Carl Hesler and Jason Cotton had impressive first seasons in the BCHL with 59 and 58 points respectively.  There is no doubt this team can score and if given the opportunities can be very lethal.

Defensively, this team is quite the opposite of the Vipers core.  They have smaller, less physical, but extremely offensive and intelligent defensemen.  The acquisition of Ryan Fraser-Lee was crucial as he plays more of a hard nose style, but Braden Pears and Taki Pantziris were brought in to help the offense production from the blue line and have done that.  The Viper forwards may not be banged around as much, but they will be in tough against guys who are smart with the puck, in their own zone and jumping up in the play.

Goaltending was an interesting factor to watch as the season began.  Andy Desautels was brought in from the Prince Albert Raiders to split time with Steven Myland.  Early in the year Myland would depart leaving Desautels the reigns to the team.  He definitely didn't disappoint and quickly dispelled any possibilities of goaltending being a weak spot on this team.  Desautels was a workhorse all year long finishing second in games played.  He ranked first in wins and in the top 10 for GAA and Save Percentage.  There is no doubt he will be the guy for the Warriors in the playoffs and will look to elevate his game to an even higher level.

The Warrior powerplay was at one time during the season near the bottom of the league, but once the calendar flipped over they went on a tear and finished 5th with 49 goals while up a man.  Their PK on the other hand finished near the bottom.  Special teams will always be a key factor to post season play and will be interesting to see if the PK irons it out against a PP of the Vipers who were in tough all season.

I could go on and on about statistics and trends, but at the end of the day this series will be an absolute war.  If you're a fan of junior hockey this will be a treat.  Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses and either team could come out of this series and it wouldn't be an upset.  These two teams stack up extremely even and it all gets started tonight.

The series begins in West Kelowna for games 1 and 2, both games will be on 1075 KissFM with the pregame show starting at 6:45 and puck drop at 7!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Vipers Lose 5-1 In Season Finale

Once again in a game that didn't mean anything the Vernon Vipers started quick but faded over the course of 60 minutes to lose their second straight game heading into the playoffs.  Read into it as you like, but the jury is still out on whether its better to go into the post season riding a high or coming in needing to work on a few things.  No matter the answer, we will find out just a few days from now.

It was a very nice start to the game for both teams as they traded chances and kept the whistles to a minimum.  The best chance of the first ten minutes was a 2 on 1 rush for the Vipers that was thwarted by a spectacular sprawling pad save from Jarrod Schamerhorn who was outstanding all night especially early.  The Vipers would draw first blood as Brett Mulcahy would put home his own rebound to make it 1-0.  The Cents would tie the game late on a weird one as the puck found its way to the side of the Viper goal only to somehow squirt across the line.  The back of the net had come up and some thought the puck had gone under but after a discussion from the officials it was deemed a good goal credited to Diego Cuglietta.

The momentum would sway in the favour of the Cents in the middle frame thanks again to a handful of nice saves from Schamerhorn.  Sam Johnson would score at 7:42 to give the home team a 2-1 lead.  Less than 5 minutes later a beautiful centering pass from Cuglietta found Payton Schaefer and he would increase the lead to 3-1.  Things went from bad to worse for the Vipers as Jared Wilson would be penalized for a check to the head of Diego Cuglietta and ejected from the game.  The Cents would score quickly on the major powerplay as Scotty Patterson would get his first of two on the night.

The third was a rather uneventful period, but early in it the Cents put the game away as Patterson would add another to make it 5-1.  The game settled down, but no more goals would be scored and 5-1 would be the final.

My 3 Key Thoughts

1) - Playoff Primer - Depending on how you look at it, these last two games have been warmups for the playoffs, if thats the case then it was the opposite of how the Vipers wanted to prepare.  They were outscored 11-6 and just seemed to lack focus and intensity, two very important factors in post season play.  I am very confident however, that the Vipers team that finished the season will not be the same one that begins the post season on Tuesday.  The team always brings their best effort against West Kelowna and I wouldn't expect any less.

2) - Goaltending Swap - It was a tough night for Danny Todosychuk who wasn't anticipating getting any action, but after the first period Austin Smith would come down with a sickness and be forced from the game.  The NVMA isn't an easy place to play when you're warm and ready to go, let alone when cold and off the bench.  I thought Danny played solid, but couldn't outperform Schamerhorn who was lights out.  Once again goaltending will have play a big role in the playoffs and no matter who starts for the Vipers they will bring their A game.

3) - End Of a Solid Season - The Vernon Vipers came into the season knowing it was an important one.  Being RBC Cup hosts puts an immense pressure on a team to perform at the highest of levels.  It was a season that had ups and downs, although more the former than the latter.  They finished the season with 30 wins which is 9 better than the season before and finished with 18 more points.  They scored 36 more goals and gave up 5 more.  That number is skewed a bit as this season had 2 more regular season games than last, but the improvements were there.  The only blemish for this team is the powerplay and as I spoke with Riley Guenther last night, those statistics are wiped out for the second season and will be quickly forgotten if this team's PP gets off to a quick start.

The playoffs will start on Tuesday as the Vipers get set to square off with the West Kelowna Warriors.  All the action starts at 6:45 with the pregame show and can be heard on 107.5 KissFM.