Sunday, November 20, 2011
Lakers Merit Hall Call:
Lakers merit Hall call
By Roger Knox - Vernon Morning Star
Published: November 20, 2011
The Vernon Lakers from 1989-91 were the catalysts for what has arguably become Canada’s top Junior A hockey franchise, though the seeds were actually planted a couple of years prior to that.
Those Lakers teams won back-to-back Centennial Cups, the first of what is now six Canadian championships for Vernon teams (the Vipers have won four), the most by any franchise in the country.
And a guy who saw it all, as both a player and an assistant coach with the team, was Vernon native Keith Chase, a tough-nosed defenceman who brought the same grit to standing behind the players as a coach.
Chase will be in attendance Wednesday, along with others from those teams, as the Vernon Lakers will be enshrined in the Okanagan Sports Hall of Hall in the team category at Wednesday’s induction luncheon at the Schubert Centre.
“It’s a great honour, No. 1, to be part of something like that (the Hall of Fame), said Chase, who owns Chasers Bottle Depot in Vernon’s north end. “But I’m lucky to have been part of something pretty special with the Lakers.”
Chase was toiling for the Merritt Centennials when new Lakers owner and general manager Mel Lis got him and forward Mark Greyeyes in a trade in the 1986-87 season. That Lakers squad beat Penticton in the first round of the playoffs, then lost to eventual Interior champion Kelowna in the conference final.
The next year, with coaches Ernie Gare and George Fargher leading the charges, Vernon won the BCHL championship, led by Dallas Drake who captured the scoring title. The Lakers, however, were eliminated in four straight games in the Doyle Cup by the Calgary Canucks, a series not as lopsided as one would think in the sweep. The Lakers were stymied by a pint-sized goalie named Buddy Brazier who stood on his head for four games as the Lakers outshot the Canucks in each contest.
Chase graduated as a player the following year, but stayed with the organization as a coach as the Lakers won their second straight league title and advanced to their first Centennial Cup in P.E.I., only to lose all three round-robin games.
After a slow start in 1989, Gare was fired and Fargher left the team. Assistant coach Eddie Johnstone was named head coach and Chase was promoted from eye-in-the-sky coach to the bench as Johnstone’s assistant.
The change worked, and the Lakers went on to win the Interior Conference championship. They would meet the powerhouse New Westminster Royals in the final. The Royals jumped out to a 3-0 series lead, then held on to beat the Lakers in six games.
With a month off before the Lakers hosted the Centennial Cup tournament at the Civic Arena in 1990, the team went to Invermere, home of their Junior B affiliate at the time, the Columbia Valley Rockies, and held essentially a mini-camp, complete with scrimmages and two-a-day workouts to stay in game shape.
At the tournament, Vernon went 3-1 in the round-robin, losing 5-3 to the Royals, who won the Doyle Cup. They beat the Western champion Nipawin Hawks 11-5 in the semifinal, setting up the championship game everybody wanted, Royals vs Lakers.
New West led 5-2 after two periods, and Vernon was short-handed to start the third after a slashing penalty to goalie Dean Kuntz, who was replaced for the third period by Murray Caton.
“The players were looking down like we were done, so we had a heart-to-heart,” said Chase. “I said, ‘Think of all the time we spent together, all the practices, the road trips on the ol’ Iron Lung (bus), the memories, and you’re going to throw it all away because we’re down by three goals? All we need is one?’”
They got one from Garth Geddes, short-handed, and tied it up setting the stage for centre Cam Sylven’s overtime breakaway winner.
While that Lakers team got a bye into the Centennial Cup, the 1990-91 squad earned its way to the title game in Sudbury.
Vernon finished third in the Interior, four points behind the pennant-winning Chilliwack Chiefs, and two back of the Kelowna Spartans. After sweeping the Spartans, Vernon fell behind the Chiefs 2-1.
“I noticed some friction on the team so we had a meeting,” said Chase, still an assistant to Johnstone. “We ironed out the things we needed to do and the things we weren’t doing. We won the next game and that was the turning point.”
The Lakers won 14 of their next 15 games, beating the Chiefs, then sweeping Powell River, for a third straight BCHL title, and Prince George for the B.C. Mowat Cup, then eliminated the Calgary Royals 4-1 in the Doyle Cup.
In Sudbury, Vernon went 2-2 in the round-robin with a 3-2 win over the Thunder Bay Flyers giving Vernon fourth place in a tie-breaker. The Lakers defeated the first-place Yorkton (Sask.) Terriers 7-5 in the semifinal, then doubled the host Sudbury Cubs 8-4 in the championship.
That team was led by captain Terry Klapstein of Quesnel, who had 117 points, and forward Jason Elders of Lake Country who had 116.
“That team was big, we had big forwards and big defencemen,” said Chase. “They could pretty much play against any team.”
Elders, Caton, defenceman Marcel Aubin and forward Lorne Kanigan were the players on both championship teams, joining the management of Lis, Johnstone, Chase and trainer Vic Chenier.
The Lakers would go to a fourth straight Centennial Cup tournament in 1992, losing in the semifinals.
Vern Dye, who founded the BCHL, and his son Wayne, the all-time leading scorer in Vernon Junior hockey history, will be enshrined posthumously Wednesday.
Athletes Kevin Reimer (baseball), Camille Martens (rhythmic gymnastics), Gary and Steven Vander Meulen (swimming), Rob Boyd (downhill skiing) and Larry Kwong (hockey) will also be enshrined.
The luncheon starts at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $25 and are available through TicketSeller.