The Vernon Vipers and West Kelowna Warriors played a first-round B.C. Hockey League playoff matchup preview Sunday afternoon, March 20, at Royal LePage Place.
It was unbeknownst to the pair of teams at game time Sunday that they would meet in the opening round of the Interior Conference playoffs, but that became official more than two hours later after the Warriors skated to a 6-1 victory.
West Kelowna (35-15-1-0) will finish in third place while the sixth-place Vipers (26-20-4-3) have one game remaining. Vernon is two points behind fifth-place Cranbrook, and the Bucks also have one game left. While Vernon can still tie Cranbrook in points, the Bucks (28-20-2-3) have two more wins.
Cranbrook will play the Prince George Spruce Kings in the opening round.
Tyler Crystal opened the scoring for the Warriors on a powerplay at 5:14 of the first period. Luke Lavery tied the game 1-1 for Vernon at 18:34 of the first.
West Kelowna then rattled off five straight goals, four coming in a second-period outburst courtesy of Charles-Alexis Legault, Marcus Joughin, Tyson Jugnauth (powerplay) and Nick Roukounakis.
Christophe Farmer added the final goal at 7:39 of the third period.
Johnny Derrick made 22 saves for the win in goal while Roan Clarke stopped 23 West Kelowna shots.
The Vipers close out the regular season at home Wednesday, March 23, against the Trail Smoke Eaters. West Kelowna visits the conference champion Penticton Vees Friday, March 25, and host the Merritt Centennials Saturday, March 26.
The Vees will play Trail in the opening round of the post-season while the Salmon Arm Silverbacks draw the Wenatchee Wild.
The only thing the Vernon Vipers didn’t do Saturday night was score into an empty net.
The Vipers had two even-strength goals, a shorthanded marker and a powerplay goal from four separate scorers as they rolled to a 4-1 B.C. Hockey League win over the Merritt Centennials March 19 at Kal Tire Place.
The Vipers jumped out to an early lead as Zack Tonelli converted on his own rebound just before the five-minute mark. Five minutes later, Ben Ward evened the game up with a shot from the left circle and over the glove of Vernon goalie Ethan David.
Less than a minute later Cam MacDonald scored his 13th of the season after putting home his own rebound from a shot that slammed off the end wall to the side of the net.
While on a second-period powerplay, the Vipers extended their lead as a point shot from Nick Kent was stopped, but Luke Buss slammed in the rebound to make it 3-1. Special teams were exemplary for the Vipers as their penalty kill rang up some offence with Matt Culling ripping home his 11th of the season making it 4-1 after two.
The Vipers defended tightly and had a number of good looks in the period but couldn’t solve Centennials goalie Peyton Trzaska, who finished with 42 saves. David made 25 stops.
With the win, and a Cranbrook 5-1 loss at home to the Penticton Vees, Vernon moves to within two points of the fifth-place Bucks with a game in hand.
The Vipers wrap up the regular season Wednesday, March 23, at home against the Trail Smoke Eaters while Cranbrook will play its final game at home Saturday, March 26, against the Wenatchee Wild.
Vernon will play either West Kelowna or the Prince George Spruce Kings in the opening round of the Interior Conference playoffs. The Spruce Kings have ended their regular season and will finish fourth.