Friday, March 19, 2010

Snakes Pumped For Penticton:

This is in todays Morning Star Newspaper:

Snakes pumped for Penticton

By Graeme Corbett - Vernon Morning Star

Published: March 18, 2010

Many looked at it as a simple tuneup to prepare for the B.C. Hockey League Interior Conference final. A minor inconvenience standing between the Vernon Vipers and a shot at defending the Fred Page Cup.

Instead, the Snakes found themselves in a six-game grudge match with the feisty Quesnel Millionaires, who gave their all against the defending Royal Bank Cup champs. On the strength of back-to-back shutouts by Graeme Gordon, the Vipers clinched their best-of-seven Interior semifinal 4-2 Tuesday night at the Vault in Quesnel.

Vernon, ranked second in the country, hosts the No. 3-rated Penticton Vees in Games 1 and 2 of the Interior final tonight and Saturday night at Wesbild Centre. Games 3 and 4 go Tuesday and Wednesday night at South Okanagan Events Centre.

The Vees iced the Westside Warriors 4-2 in the other Interior semi, ending with a 4-3 overtime Game 6 thriller Tuesday at Royal LePage Place.

Gordon, a North Vancouver product, turned in a 25-save showing as the Vipers iced the Mills 5-0 in Tuesday’s Game 6. The 20-year-old keeper backstopped the Snakes to a 4-0 Game 5 win a night earlier at Wesbild.

“Those last two games were our best effort in the playoffs by far,” said Gordon, who admitted to feeling a bit rusty after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury late in the regular season.

“I just went back to what worked for me – pre-game routine, focusing throughout the game. I’m feeling like a young Andrew Hammond now,” he added, laughing.

Jonathan Milhouse, Sahir Gill, Cole Ikkala, Garrett Noonan and Connor Jones led the Viper offence with a goal and assist each in Game 6. Kellen Jones supplied two helpers.

The Mills came out desperate, but the Vipers’ skill took over the game as they outshot Quesnel 45-25.

“They really only had those two lines, and they were obviously tired from the series before (against the Salmon Arm SilverBacks),” said Gordon.

After watching his team struggle with consistency, earning a split in the first four games, Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner decided to juggle his lines, reuniting twins Connor and Kellen with Gill, and placing David Robinson on a line with Braden Pimm and Mike Collins.

“Giller, Connor and Kell have kind of found their groove again. We just wanted to get a spark; we needed to let them know that we needed to get some guys going,” said Ferner.

“It was a matter of time until we got our game back. In the last two games we were a lot better in certain areas.”

Ferner compared the physicality of the Quesnel series to last year’s semifinal epic with Salmon Arm.

“You’ve got to give them credit. They played a really hard series,” said Ferner. “This was a good thing for us. They didn’t make it easy on us and we needed that.”

As the series wore on, Ferner says it was the Vipers’ depth and experience that made the difference. It is something the Snakes will be relying on more as the post-season continues.

“Our ability to roll four lines wears teams down, especially in a seven-game series. We’re prepared to play seven hard games, and that’s the mentality you have to have,” he said.

“The one thing we’ve got over other teams is the experience of winning a Royal Bank Cup. Our guys have what it takes to win.”

Added Gordon: “I’d rather go six games than have a four-game cakewalk and then head into Penticton thinking it’s going to be easy.”

Given the two team’s regular-season rivalry (they split the series 3-3), Ferner is expecting fireworks with the Penticton series, especially with both teams back at full strength.

“Finally, they are healthy. We want to play the best team out there at their best, and we feel that’s Penticton. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing.

“It should be a very entertaining series. Fans will be in for a treat.”

Said Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson: “It’s two teams that know each other well. It has been a tight series all year and we’ve had success in their building, so we feel confident going in there this weekend. We feel like we’re in a good place.

“Both teams are filled with talented players, so it’s going to be awesome for fans and for the BCHL,” he added, suggesting these could be two of the most gifted teams in BCHL history.

SNAKE BITES: The SilverBacks have fired first-year head coach Matt Hughes. A native of Kamloops, Hughes was an assistant coach beside Rylan Ferster for two years before taking over bench boss duties. Former Viper and Kamloops Blazer coach Troy Mick, now with the KIJHL finalist Revelstoke Grizzlies, is considered a leading candidate for the Salmon Arm opening...The Alberni Valley Bulldogs will face the Powell River Kings in the Coastal Conference final. The Dawgs stopped the host Nanaimo Clippers 5-2 Tuesday night at Frank Crane Arena to earn a 4-2 decision in their semifinal. The Kings swept the Langley Chiefs in four straight in the other Coastal semi...The Alberta League semifinal series start Saturday with the nation’s No. 1 Spruce Grove Saints meeting the Camrose Kodiaks, and the No. 17 Okotoks Oilers facing the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, who upset ex-Viper coach Mike Vandekamp’s Grande Prairie Storm in the quarters. The Oil Barons received an honourable mention in the final CJAHL rankings.

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