Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Vees Brush Back Vipers In Game 7:
Vees brush back Vipers in Game 7
Kevin Mitchell Wed Apr 12th, 2017
It was Game 204 for Riley Brandt. His last as a valued member of the Vernon Vipers. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound muscle-bound centre earned his shower every minute in his B.C. Hockey League career.
A consummate heart-and-soul captain, the 20-year-old Brandt was distraught moments after the Vipers lost 3-1 to the Penticton Vees in Game 7 before 4,033 highly vocal fans Monday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees take the Ryan Hadfield Memorial Trophy as Interior Conference champions and meet the Chilliwack Chiefs for the Fred Page Cup, while the Vipers clean out their lockers and spend a few days celebrating a pretty special season.
“The group of guys in that room made it so easy for me to be the captain this year,” said the teary Brandt, perhaps the league’s toughest player ounce-for-ounce. “The group of 20-year-olds we had left their hearts on the ice every single day. You couldn’t have a better group of rookies and everybody else through the whole organization over the past years here have been nothing but great to me.
“I call Vernon home and there’s nothing I could have done anymore to show my appreciation to the organization, and especially to this group of guys inside that room tonight. I am so thankful for what this organization has done for me in the past and coming out like this is obviously difficult, but that’s hockey and I guess you’re gonna have to go with the memories instead of the championships sometimes.”
Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner was very emotional moments after the game. He said the Vipers simply couldn’t get any traction or catch a break.
“It’s never easy coming into someone else’s building and we fell behind early. The one positive is I’m very extremely proud of this group, not only the way they played on the ice, but the way they were off the ice. This was a very pleasurable team to coach and be around. We’ve got great personalities and it’s very tough and bitter for some guys, especially the 20-year-olds and the players that will be leaving for school. That was the message: we’ve very proud of them. They represented the organization and the city like no other.”
Brandt, the pride of Trail, scored the Vipers’ last goal of the year to give them some life midway through the third period. He will play for the Royal Military College Paladins in Kingston, Ont. next year.
“This organization is is very good hands,” said Brandt. “I’m very proud to have been a Viper for the past three years.”
Brandt and teammate Jagger Williamson were the only Vipers who lost Game 7 to the Vees in the 2015 Interior final. The Vees grabbed the lead 7:51 after the national anthem when Okanagan Hockey Academy call-up Cassidy Bowes fed d-man Gabe Bast down the left sidewall. Bast, a North Dakota commit, wired a low wrister past Viper goalie Darion Hanson for his fifth of the playoffs.
Bowes entered the Vees lineup for Chris Klack, who was issued a one-game suspension from Game 6 in Vernon. The Kelowna 18-year-old enjoyed a strong showing and earned the FortisBC Energy player of the game.
Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said getting that first goal was crucial all series long.
“It has been important in this series. Both teams are so good with the lead,” said Harbinson. “Getting that first goal gave us the confidence. Got the crowd into it, which was outstanding tonight, over 4,000 people.”
Hanson recorded a big save off a Jared Nash backhander five minutes into the second period. The Vees went up 2-0 when power forward Duncan Campbell, who played in the Memorial Cup last year with the Brandon Wheat Kings, took a feed from Nic Jones and buried a 10-foot snapper, untouched, from the right side of Hanson. Jones, also headed to North Dakota, juked and jived with the puck for a good seven seconds in the deep slot before finding Campbell. Bast drew the secondary assist.
“They backed off a little bit so I thought I had some time,” said Jones, a 20-year-old from Edmonton. “I was gonna shoot one, I saw Campbell over there so he was able to make a good shot.”
Added Jones, who played a full season with the Ohio State Buckeyes as an 18-year-old: “We’re a pretty good team with the lead. We fell behind early last game (5-1 loss Saturday night in Vernon) and weren’t able to get back into it. It was nice to get up early tonight.”
Penticton upped their lead with 6:40 left in the middle frame when D Sol Seibel, filling in for Chris Jandric, who was serving a one-game suspension, turned the puck over in the Vees end to Owen Sillinger. The Bemidji State commit sprung Taylor Sanheim.
Sanheim, who spent 133 games with the WHL Calgary Hitmen before joining the Vees at the trade deadline, broke into the Vipers zone, then slowed as he made an inside-out move on D Shane Kelly that looked like it was going nowhere. Sanheim then snapped a shot, high blocker that sent fans into a frenzy.
Viper centre Brett Stapley cut hard to the net but was denied by goalie Matt Robson, one of the few Vernon scoring chances over 40 minutes.
Luke Gingras almost got Vernon on the board with a Grade A chance in front of Robson after an aggressive forecheck early in the third stanza.
With 9:34 remaining, Jesse Lansdell picked off a James Miller clearing pass and fed Brandt, who went roof daddy. The Vipers pressed hard for the remainder of the period, outshooting Penticton 12-5.
“This is a tough loss,” said Viper All-Rookie team defenceman Michael Ufberg, who caught a piece of Ty Amonte with a monster check at the Vees’ blueline. “You gotta give credit to Penticton over there. We got down pretty early and fought back which shows the kind of team we have, the kind of character in the room, the heart in the room and the passion. You have to give a shout out to our whole team, probably the most amazing team I’ve ever played on. It was all about team this year.
“Mark and (assistants Kraus and Pedersen) Kevin and Kevin taught us so much and they preached the culture and we responded to that. We had a great group of 20-year-olds who were great leaders. Riley Brandt’s the best captain I’ve ever had, one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen.”
Ufberg, a 19-year-old from Philadelphia who has a scholarship to Princeton Tigers, will return next year and promises to be a leader after watching the Viper veterans work the room.
The Vees and Vipers were meeting in the playoffs for the 22nd time since 1967 and went to Game 7 for the the third time in four seasons, with Vernon winning in overtime in 2014 (Michael McNicholas winner) and Penticton prevailing 2-0 in 2015 (Patrick Sexton goal).
Penticton hosts the Western Canada Cup April 29-May 7. The top-two teams move to the Royal Bank Cup, 13-21, in Couburg, Ont.
“Vernon is a great team. You’re in Game 7 and up 3-0 in the third,” said Harbinson. “You know that they are going to keep pushing. They got one. They made us turn the puck over. Now all of a sudden you are hanging on for dear life. I told our guys to act like a family. When you’re in tough situations with your family, you’re going to stick together and that’s what the boys did tonight.”
Ferner tweaked his lineup in the fall, adding giant blueliners Connor Clouston and Cooper Watson, Hanson and the feisty Lansdell to become a tougher team to play against.
Clouston, who was released by his father/coach Shaun Clouston of the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers, has no regrets coming to Vernon. The 20-year-old Medicine Hat product played 158 Major Junior games with the Kamloops Blazers, Moose Jaw Warriors and Tigers. He knew and trusted Ferner.
“I couldn’t be happier the way things worked out,” said Clouston. “I’ve never been part of a team that close; I’ve actually never made playoffs in my Junior career. It’s an incredible feeling with an incredible group of guys. I made some lifelong friends and memories here.
“I learned a lot as a hockey player and as a person through great leadership from the team, from the young guys to the older guys and an unbelievable coaching staff.”
While Clouston and Watson were the most feared defensive pairing in the league, the Snakes’ other three players aging out brought grit and moxy as well.
WHL refugee Austin Adamson found his way after a rough start and Hunter Zandee was a versatile super pest. Brandt cared deeply about his teammates, fans and everybody involved with the Vipers, treating the organization like a brotherhood.
“One thing about our 20-year-olds is they treated everybody with such respect and they were fun to be around,” said Ferner. ‘They all have good futures.”
The Vees visit the Chiefs for Games 1 and 2 Friday and Saturday at the Prospera Centre.