Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three Times the Charm

... well at least that is what the Powell River Kings are hoping as they prepare to host the Vernon Vipers for the 2011 BCHL Championship. This is the third consecutive year that these two teams have met to vie for the Fred Page Cup. That is almost unbelievable ... save for the fact that it is the true.

As of this weekend when Game One opens in Powell River, five players will start their third consecutive year playing for the league championship. Michael Gartieg, gets an asterisk as he was in the Powell River Kings fold but was an extra with the team during the post season.

For the Powell River Kings, Andrew Pettitt and Chad Niddery as eighteen year olds were into their second seasons of their junior hockey career and were doing their part to contribute. In the post season Pettitt had a 2G 2A record in 15 games while Niddery had a 3G 3A record in 16 games.

Steven Weinstein patrolled the Vipers blue line during four games of the Conference Finals series versus the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Adam Thompson, another eighteen year old defenceman scored the first goal in the sixth game that saw the Vernon Vipers win 2-1 in Vernon and eliminate Powell River. Bryce Kakoske is the third member of the Vernon Vipers squad that will be trying to three-peat.

The numbers increase when you look at returning players from the last Vernon vs Powell River Championship series. Powell River has nine players returning to the League Championship while the Vernon Vipers have seven. Michael Gartieg again is a slight anomaly as he was suited up as the back up but never got any minutes in net. Of course Andrew Pettitt and Chad Niddery were front and centre, especially Niddery who played in all seven games and 23 in total during that post season.

Braden Pears, Klay Kachur, Brenden Forbes, Jason Yee, Steven Schmidt and Justin Dasilva are the six other playoff vets that know all too well the pain of suffering a post season loss to the Vernon Vipers.

The Vipers after making it to two consecutive RBC Royal Bank Cup Tournaments and claiming the National Championship were thought to be in a rebuilding season this year. It appears now that such a notion was only from the outsiders with the Vernon Vipers sending seven players back to the League Championship.

Although he only saw four games in his first post season, Steven Weinstein this time was dressed for a total of 19 playoff games including all seven against the Powell River Kings. Adam Thompson and Bryce Kakoske also dressed for all 19 of the Vernon Vipers playoff games en route to their second league championship.

Dylan Walchuk, from McBride, tasted success in his first post season coming up with a 5 point record in 19 games. David Robinson also played in the full allotment of playoff games whereas Patrick McGillis only played in one post season game - game one against the Powell River Kings. Blake Voth was the backup goaltender, but did get to see just under a period of play stopping all seven Kings shots he faced.

It will also be the third time that the coaching staff will be drawing up the X's and O's against each other. Kent Lewis who has had a banner year behind the bench of the Powell River Kings saw his team finish with a league best 97 points on the strength of a 46-9-3-2 record. In the late stages of the season, Lewis recorded his 500th win as a head coach.

Mark Ferner has been behind the bench of the Vernon Vipers for their two previous winning seasons that started with the Fred Page Cup, then the Doyle Cup and the two back-to-back RBC Royal Bank Cups. Earlier in the season, I had a conversation with Ferner and asked him if he thought about the prospect of doing what many people think is impossible - a complete three-peat. Ferner told me that he believes in this team and would love to be a part of something like that.

The Vernon Vipers quest for the three-peat of the BCHL Championship begins as it did two years ago in Powell River. In the 2008-09 post season, the Vernon Vipers won the Fred Page Cup on home ice in Game Six. Vipers won Game One 4-0, Game Two 3-0, Game Four 3-2 in overtime and Game Six 2-1. The Powell River Kings won Game Three 3-2 in overtime and Game Five 4-1.

The following year saw the Vernon Vipers with home ice advantage but the Powell River Kings stole home ice with a split in Vernon with the teams trading 2-1 and 3-1 wins. The Kings returned home and found themselves up 2-1 in the series with a Game Three shutout victory. The Vipers responded the next night doubling up the Kings 4-2 to make the series a best-of-three heading back to Vernon.

The Vipers won Game Five 4-2 putting the Powell River Kings on the brink of elimination in front of their hometown fans, the Kings would have nothing of that and came up with a statement win scoring four times in the second period to post a 5-2 win and force a seventh and deciding game. In Game Seven Chad Niddery spotted the Kings the 1-0 lead only to have the Vipers come back with three unanswered goals to win the game 3-1 and the series 4 games to 3.

So what trend will continue this year? Will it be the trend of Vernon winning the League Championship on home ice (i.e. Game Six on April 9th) or will Powell River go from two wins in 2009, to three wins in 2010 to four wins and the League Championship in 2011.

This one is too close to call and there are also the sentimental reasons for both teams to win ...

Powell River because they've been to the dance twice before only to leave without a date.

Vernon simply because how cool would it be to see a Junior 'A' team pull off the ultimate in three-peats.

The best-of-seven series gets started on Friday April 1st in Powell River with Game Two on Saturday night also in the Hap Parker Arena. Games Three and Four will be in the Wesbild Centre on April 4th and 5th. Games Five, Six and Seven as required will alternate with a day off in between - April 7th in Powell River, April 9th in Vernon and April 11th in Powell River.

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