If it was to be their last-ever regular season appearance at Royal LePage Place, the Vernon Vipers made it count.
Brett Stapley scored two second-period powerplay goals against former teammate Cole Demers Friday, and Demers’ replacement, Darion Hanson, made 33 saves as the Vipers edged the West Kelowna Warriors 2-1 in B.C. Hockey League action over the William R. Bennett bridge in front of 1,313 fans at Royal LePage.
The Warriors are closing out the year as rumours persist the team will be moving to North Delta (see more below).
“Our guys don’t even know what’s going on there,” said Vernon head coach Mark Ferner about the rumour. “The media is making much more out of this. Nobody knows if the sale is going to go ahead. It might very well fall through.”
The Vipers hosted Powell River Saturday at Kal Tire Place. The Kings scored four unanswered third-period goals Friday to stun the Silverbacks 5-3 in Salmon Arm.
After a scoreless opening period, Stapley potted his eighth of the year on a powerplay 1:50 into the middle frame with Jimmy Lambert drawing the only assist.
Stapley added his ninth at 16:09 with the man advantage, Lambert and Michael Ufberg – with his team-leading 23rd helper – drawing assists.
The Warriors got to within one with 37 seconds left in the period as Quin Foreman scored his team-leading 21st of the year unassisted.
The goalies took over in the third period. Hanson made 11 of his 33 saves in the final frame as the Warriors looked for the equalizer. Demers made 12 saves and finished with 35 stops as he faced his former team for the first time.
“We competed and we worked,” said Ferner of picking up a key two points. “Our powerplay was good. So was our penalty kill. Our goalie was real good. It felt like a playoff game out there. Down the stretch we have to make sure our compete level is high. We beat a team that was playing well. The two teams played hard. That’s the way it should be.”
Demers appeared in 12 games for the Vipers, going 3-8 with a 3.20 goals against average, before being released in November. A native of Kelowna, Demers joined the Warriors after Christmas. He has played in five games, going 3-2 with a GAA of 2.83 and a .917 save percentage.
Vernon went 2-2 in West Kelowna this season.
The victory moved Vernon (23-14-4-3) to within 10 points of the idle first-place Penticton Vees in the Interior Division. West Kelowna remained alone in third place (22-19-1-0), eight points behind the Vipers and one point ahead of the Merritt Centennials and Trail Smoke Eaters. Salmon Arm is sixth, eight points back of Merritt and Trail.
The Smokies fell 6-3 in Chilliwack Friday. Merritt did not play.
• The BCHL conducted its semi-annual board of governors meeting this week in Richmond, and a number of items arose that will potentially affect the league’s operations for the 2017-18 season.
The board has directed its franchise committee to review a franchise transfer application.
This is a result of talks between West Kelowna owner Mark Cheyne and a group interested in purchasing his franchise and moving it to North Delta’s Sungod Arena. It is the responsibility of the committee to make a recommendation to the board of governors as to what would be best course of action for the BCHL and all its member clubs in this matter. The franchise committee is also to determine a timeline to when this potential transfer would be voted on by the board.
Regarding speculation on the Nanaimo Clippers and a possible impact to their operation from a relocating Western Hockey League (WHL) franchise, the City of Nanaimo is holding a referendum on March 11 where residents will decide whether or not they want the city to proceed with construction of a new hockey arena capable of hosting a WHL franchise. Nothing can be decided about the Clippers’ future until the results of the referendum are known.
The governors approved a move to a 23-man roster for next season. Teams have been operating with 22-man rosters since the 2012-13 season.