I have had season tickets for 29 years and been following junior hockey in Vernon for over thirty five years. I have missed four Vipers home games since 2009 and five Vipers home games since the 1999-2000 season. For anyone who couldn't attend or watch tonight's Vipers game, here are my thought's and view's from tonight's game. You may agree or disagree but we all have our own opinion on the game. I try to be unbiased and give a fare game recap from both sides. Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog.
I was at tonight's Vipers-Smoke Eaters Game 7 of the Interior division semi finals as Vernon defeated Tril 4-2 in front of 3,205 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Vernon: Aidan Porter
Trail: Adam Marcoux
1st Period: The Vipers jumped on Trail off the opening puck drop. Vernon with a strong forecheck, had lots of pressure deep in the Smoke Eaters zone for the first two minutes before the Smokies come back with their first shift in the offensive zone. Trail unable to muster any kind of pressure/zone time as it was all Snakes early. Michael Young's shot from the point was the first shot of the night, just over four minutes into the contest. Teddy Wooding about four and a half minutes in couldn't solve Adam Marcoux on a wrap around attempt. On the same shift a long shot from well out forced Adam Marcoux into making a big pad save, before Teddy Wooding jumped on the rebound. Wooding's shot looked to beat Marcoux five hole somehow managed to squeeze the pads tight, making a large save, keeping this game scoreless. On the following shift, Jack Judson's rocket from the backend beat Adam Marcoux ringing off the far post as the Vipers come within inches of opening the scoring. A few shifts later Josh Latta on an odd man rush, beat Adam Marcoux far side, giving Vernon a 1-0 lead at 7:36 sending Kal Tire Place into a frenzy. Matt Kowalski and Landon Fuller drew the helpers. About a minute and a half later Vernon product Nick Cherkowski with a hard nosed shift, did all the work down low on a goal mouth scramble at the side of the goal, bounced the puck in and off of Adam Marcoux's back, giving Vernon a 2-0 lead at 9:22 Ben Helgeson picked up the assist. Marcoux looked to lose sight of the puck on the play, must have felt it hit his back and roll in as he quickly turned around to stop it but it was already in the back of the net, on a very difficult shot to stop. The Smokies outshot 7-0 at this point. Jeff Tambellini and the Trail Smoke Eaters called a timeout to try and settle down the boys and regroup. Carter Jones's shot eleven minutes into the 1st period was Trail's first shot of the evening, handcuffed Aidan Porter who juggled the puck before smothering it. About a minute later Landon Fuller's heavy shot from the point forced Adam Marcoux into making a large pad save. About three to four minutes later the Smoke Eaters would get the games first power play. The Smokies didn't need long to get on the board and back in the hockey game. Carter Jones shot would be redirected in front by Hayden Rowan on it's way to the goal, cutting Vernon's lead to 2-1 at 16:08 Jones and Diarmad Dimurro collected the assists. The Vipers with a strong push back shift after the goal responded with a goal of their own. Jesse Lansdell would be denied in front, on a bit of a scramble before Vipers forward/captain Jagger Williamson buried the rebound, giving Vernon a 3-1 lead at 16:42 Lansdell & Elan Bar-Lev-Wise drew the helpers. Elan Bar-Lev-Wise was levelled twice on the same shift towards the end of the period, took two of the biggest hits this period. With the Snakes pressing late, Elan Bar-Lev-Wise with a great look/opportunity couldn't beat Adam Marcoux with about 1:30 left in the opening frame. It was 3-1 Vernon after 20 minutes of play. This was by far one of Vernon's best periods of the series and maybe the playoffs. The Snakes jumped on the Smokies off the opening puck drop and never looked back. The Vipers were by far the better of the two teams, carried most of the play, had a ton of puck possession and zone time. Vernon's forecheck and relentless hard work kept Trail hemmed in their own end for periods at a time. The Vipers opened the scoring tonight for the first time this series. The Smoke Eaters struggled off the opening faceoff, had troubles with Vernon's forecheck/pressure. Once the Vipers were up two goals, the Smokies tried getting under Vernon's skin, were playing with a bit of an edge, getting gloves/arms up high, giving the Snakes little jabs after the whistle, trying to get the Vipers to take a penalty on the retaliation. Trail had trouble getting through the neutral zone, had very little time in the Vipers end. The Smokies with very little puck possession, struggled getting pucks to the net. Trail missed the net at least four or five times in the 1st period. The Snakes outplayed and outworked the Smokies. Vernon outshot Trail 11-3.
2nd Period: A minute into the middle frame on what looked to be a set play, the visiting Trail Smoke Eaters setup Trevor Zins in on the rush, who ripped a shot that forced Vernon Vipers starting goaltender Aidan Porter into making a quick pad save early. The Vipers come right back the other way, Teddy Wooding about a minute later beat Smoke Eaters starting goaltender Adam Marcoux before ringing his shot off the crossbar, as Vernon come very close to taking a three goal lead. On the following shift the Smokies would get their second PP of the contest. Trail with a few looks, couldn't solve Aidan Porter on at least two goal mouth scrambles. Towards the end of the power play, the Smoke Eaters caught Vernon's defence napping, would spring forward/captain Braeden Tuck in for the breakaway, who fired on a missed opportunity. The Vipers would escape and kill off the minor. About a minute later Ben Sanderson spotted former Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman Carver Watson in on the rush, beat Adam Marcoux giving Vernon a 4-1 lead at 5:25 Sanderson and Lane Zablocki with the assists. This was the end of the night for Adam Marcoux who was replaced by former Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Donovan Buskey. Marcoux gave up four goals on fourteen Vernon shots. Buskey was tested quickly off the following faceoff. Matt Kowalski driving to the goal, would be denied at the side of the net after Buskey come up with a large pad save, seeing his first shot of the game. Minutes later the Snakes couldn't jam home a loose puck in front on a goal mouth scramble. Just before the halfway mark Jagger Williamson looked to give Vernon a 5-1 lead, somehow missed an open cage at the side of the crease. The Vipers with some great looks/opportunities. Inside the final minute Trevor Isaksson took a shot at Ben Sanderson, before giving a second shot. Sanderson took a swing at Isaksson before the two exchanged words. Both players were sent to the sin bin. It was 4-1 Vernon after 40 minutes of play. I thought the Smoke Eaters played a little better, had more jump/energy in their game, were moving the puck, getting through the neutral zone and getting the puck/plays in deep in the attacking zone. Down three goals Trail was sending a forward in deep/high, trying to open up Vernon's defence, almost caught the Snakes sleeping on a few shifts. The Smokies for a second straight period had troubles hitting the net. I was actually surprised at how many times Trail had a clear lane-missed the net on several opportunities. The Smokies may have played better but didn't create/or generate a lot of offensive chances. Braeden Tuck with a great opportunity on the power play, missed the net on a breakaway, Shortly after Vernon strikes taking a 4-1 lead. I thought the Vipers played well, as both teams really started to open up about halfway through the 2nd period, going back and fourth. Vernon had some great looks/quality chances in the first half, could have easily blown the game open. I thought both teams were fairly even at times and then each team had a bit of an edge over the other at times. Vernon outshot Trail 11-7.
3rd period: Just twenty eight seconds into the final frame the Snakes get their first look with the man advantage. Up 4-1 at this point the Vipers moved the puck around carefully, looked like wanting to kill the clock more then make a mistake and give up a shorthanded opportunity. Vernon did just that and killed most of their own power play, but passing the puck around, with just the odd shot attempt as the Smokies killed off the penalty. Forty seven seconds later Owen Ozar behind the goal, spotted captain Braeden Tuck alone at the side of the blue paint, went high on Aidan Porter, cutting Vernon's lead to 4-2 at 3:15 giving the Smokies fans a chance to make some noise. Ozar and Carter Jones drew the helpers. This didn't look good for the Vipers, who only up by a pair of goals, still had close to a full period left in front of them. About five minutes later Ben Helgeson with a quick low shot from the bottom corner tried going five hole on Donovan Buskey on a good look/opportunity. Both teams went back and fourth at times with not a whole lot of action, as the Snakes getting the puck in deep, ragged valuable time off the clock with a strong forecheck and relentless pressure down low. Trail with a few lengthy shifts in the attacking zone, had troubles getting pucks to the net, couldn't generate any kind of offense. Around the midway mark, Vernon would get just their second PP of the contest, had some looks but no real quality chances as the Smoke Eaters killed off the minor. With about four and a half minutes left, Connor Marritt with two quality chances, couldn't beat Donovan Buskey who come up with two large saves from in close. With time winding down and Trail's season on the line, the Smoke Eaters would get Donovan Buskey to the bench with 2:32 for the extra attacker. The Smokies had troubles getting pucks to the net as Vernon was able to clear the zone and kill more time off the clock. Owen Ozar would lose which looked like his skate blade, being helped off the ice. This was the second time tonight, Ozar had troubles with his skates, as this also happened in the 1st period. Ozar was getting help with his skates from the trainer. Inside the final minute and the game looking out of reach, Trail come out hitting, with several high hits. Carter Jones took a good lengthy run at Josh Latta levelling the former Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward with a huge elbow/head shot along the side wall. Latta somehow managed to get a shot off before the hit, hit the open cage giving Vernon a 5-2 lead at 19:16 Latta's team mates rushed over to check on the forward who looked to be ok, while Jones got away with a brutal hit. Jagger Williamson picked up the lone assist. The Smokies would send Adam Marcoux back in between the pipes and all the 20 yr olds for their final shift of the season, while the clock ticked down. Trevor Zins was mixing it up in the dying seconds before the buzzer as Nick Cherkowski was forced to race down the game puck, while two Smokies tried taking the puck before Cherkowski scooped it up. Vernon would come away with the 5-2 victory winning the series 4-3 and moving on to the Interior Division Finals vs the Wenatchee Wild. With the Snakes up 4-1 heading into the final twenty minutes, Vernon shut down the Smoke Eaters on almost every shift, limiting Trail's opportunities. The Vipers with an aggressive forecheck and relentless pressure, ragged a lot of time off the clock. The Snakes with one quality chance, didnt create or generate a lot of chances, played a solid defensive period. The Smokies had pressure of their own at times, had troubles creating/generating chances. Very little action at both ends of the rink. Trail outshot Vernon 9-7.
Top Player's: (Vernon)
Landon Fuller (1 assist) I thought played a hard fought, yet physical but smart game on the Vipers blueline.
Michael Young Was another d-ma who I thought played very well on the blueline. Young plays with a ton of confidence, was very good at moving the puck out of the zone-up ice.
The line of Josh Latta (2 goals), Matt Kowalski (1 assist) & Connor Marritt Played a strong game. Latta's speed, Kowalski's energy and Marritt's skill combined to be a tough line to defend against. This line gave Trail trouble all night.
The line of Jagger Williamson (1 goal & 1 assist), Jesse Lansdell (1 assist) & Ben Sanderson (1 assist) Was another line that played very well, played hard, blocked shots, won races, won battles, competed and battled hard.
The line of Coleton Bilodeau, Ben Helgeson (1 assist) & Nick Cherkowski (1 goal) was another solid line for Vernon. This line has really come on strong since being put together in this series. I have really noticed an improvement from Bilodeau and Cherkowski in these playoffs. Both kids are playing with a ton more confidence.
Teddy Wooding Had a few good looks, hit the crossbar, played hard, was strong on the forecheck as well as the backcheck.
Brendan Kim I thought played well on the Snakes backend. Carried the puck/play at times, played with some condifence.
Trey Taylor Also played very well on the point. Another kid who has come along ways, playing with a ton more confidence.
Carver Watson (1 goal) Has really stepped up his play in this series, has come on in these playoffs. Scored a big goal in the 2nd period, played very well at both ends of the rink.
Elan Bar-Lev-Wise (1 assist) Played a huge role-game in the Game 7 victory. Here's another young kid who stepped up in this series, earned his minutes and played hard. Took two huge hits towards the end of the opening frame, didnt back down, didnt retaliate, stayed with the play and got right back in there.
Game Thought's: (Vernon)
This has to be Vernon's best game of the series and playoffs. This was one of the Snakes more complete games of the season. The Vipers starts to almost every game in this series wasn't good and they seemed to fall behind early. Tonight for the first time in this series, the Snakes with a strong start, jumped on Trail off the opening faceoff, had good pressure, a strong forecheck and seemed to ware down the Smokies "dee" through out that first twenty minutes. Vernon played most of the night with an aggressive forecheck, had relentless pressure in on the attacking zone, created/generated lots of quality chances, scored on their opportunities and played very well defensively. I didn't think the Vipers had a lot of puck luck/or bounces go there way this series, but got the bounces and some puck luck tonight. I was very impressed at how well the Vipers defence limited the Smokies chances through out the contest. Vernon took away a lot of Trail's time and space, forced the Smoke Eaters forwards into missing the net. I was also very impressed with how the Vipers played disciplined, stayed away from the after the whistle activities. Overall the Snakes were the better of the two teams, carried a lot more of the play, had a lot more puck possession, had way more looks/opportunities. For the first time in many many years the Vipers game was sold out. I couldn't remember the last time the Vipers had a sell out, but on the way home listening to the Vipers post game radio show, Graham Turnbull said the last time the Vipers had a sell out was for a Game 7 in 2010. What a great crowd and great atmosphere in the building tonight. The announced attendance for tonight was 3,205 Wikipedia says Kal Tire Place is a 3,006 multi-purpose arena that has additional standing room capacity of 500. I would like to take this time to congratulate the Vernon Vipers entire organization and fans on their series and series win over Trail. Who would have guessed back in November/December the Vipers would be playing in the Interior division finals? Not me! After a very struggling/yet disappointing start to the 2018-19 season, the Vipers turned the season around after the Christmas break. The Snakes in my mind are not the same team they were from September to December and playing their best hockey of the season. The Vipers will now move on to the Interior division finals vs the defending league champion Wenatchee Wild. The Wild and Vipers met in the second round of last year's playoffs with Wenatchee winning the series in six games. The Wild would move on to win the BCHL/Fred Page Cup Championship but fall short in the Royal Bank Cup. The schedule has yet to be released by the league, but the Wild twitter account has stated the series starts Saturday & Sunday in Wenatchee.
Top Player's: (Trail)
Trevor Zins Played a strong night on the Smokies backend. Was physical, in your face, hard to beat one on one.
Owen Ozar (1 assist) I thought played a heck of a series, was a work horse for Trail, had another strong game tonight. This kid never quits, competes/battles game in and game out and it showed again tonight.
Game Thought's: (Trail)
The Smoke Eaters didn't know how to handle Vernon's forecheck and early pressure, were caught flat footed at times, were basically chasing the Snakes most of the 1st period. Falling down 2-0 in the first half of the opening twenty minutes was a big blow, especially in Game 7 on the road. The Smoke Eaters respond with a power player marker, but then give up a goal thirty four seconds later. The Smokies struggled most of the night, getting pucks to the net, creating/generating chances, getting zone time. Trail missed the net often, had troubles hitting the net, especially in the first two periods. The Smoke Eaters didn't look like the same team we saw play here in Games 1 & 2 and even Game 5. The Smoke Eaters weren't much of a threat tonight, had troubles getting sustained pressure, didn't get a whole lot of opportunities. Trail lost a lot of the battles, races, puck battles etc. After falling down two goals the Smokies started trying getting under the skin of the Vipers, getting their arms/gloves up, several high hits, taking a few wacks at guys, played with an edge, especially in that 1st period. Instead should have been concentrating on the hockey game and trying to find a way to get back in the hockey game. Listening to the Vipers post game radio show, Graham Turnbull mentioned Trevor Zins was the only player still sitting on the Smokies bench in full gear, with his head down, while almost everyone had emptied out of Kal Tire Place. I didn't like how the Smokies started letting their emotions get the better of them towards the final minute of the hockey game. Several players took a few runs at Vipers, got their gloves/arms up high, even Carter Jones took a good run/head shot/elbow at Josh Latta as he went for the empty net. There was no call for that at the end of the hockey game/series. I know the Vipers are no angels either but go out on the high note and lose with some class. I would like to wish the Trail Smoke Eaters, their entire organization and their fans for a great season and a heck of a playoff series. All the best to the graduating players on their hockey careers or futures. I don't think many fans expected Trail to get this far after finishing 7th in the Interior division. I don't think anyone expected Trail to upset Merritt in the first round of the playoffs or take Vernon to seven games. Great to see a large turnout of Smoke Eaters fans in attendance tonight. You guys deserve a huge clap for being great hockey fans.
Energy Player of the Game:
Matt Kowalski (1 assist)
1st Star: Jagger Williamson (1 goal & 1 assist)
2nd Star: Josh Latta (2 goals)
3rd Star: Carver Watson (1 goal)
Trevor Miller's Trail Smoke Eaters Blog,