Monday, May 11, 2009

Vipers Win, Kellen Interview, Merritt Coach

(The Vipers with the RBC Cup - From Hockey Canada's website)

I want to send out congrats to the whole Vernon Vipers organization today on their dominant Royal Bank Cup victory. While Humbolt put up a fight, there was really no doubt what team was going to come out on top in this tournament. Vernon won eleven consecutive games dating back to the Fred Page Cup series against Powell River. They swept the Doyle Cup and they swept through the national championship tournament as well. Vernon's biggest tests were in the BCHL playoffs themselves against Salmon Arm and Powell River. Their biggest test in the RBC Cup was against the host Victoria team in a game that went to overtime. What does that tell you about the quality of this year's BCHL teams? There is no doubt that the BCHL was the top junior a league in the country this year... if not every year!

How did Vernon do it? Depth and commitment to me are the biggest factors. They had four elite lines and three elite defensive pairings. You didn't get a shift off against the Vipers because there was never a weak group coming over the boards. They didn't get too fatigued during any game or during the playoff because they didn't have to double or triple shift their best players to be competitive. They also had a terrific goaltender who didn't give up bad goals at key times.

Having that kind of a line-up takes commitment from every player to put the team first. By that I mean there are guys on the Vipers who could have been challenging the league leaders in points if they had a short bench, but instead they bought into the system and didn't worry about their point totals. The Jones Twins, Braden Pimm, Mike Collins... those guys could have put up huge numbers if they were double shifting every game, but they played a team game in a system designed to win a championship. They were rewarded for it with four new banners to hang from rafters in Vernon. That's a lesson for other teams like the Smokies who play the four line strategy that it really can work if you buy in.

I remember thinking in the first month of the season that the Vipers had been a disappointment to that point. They had so much talent and so many returning players I had expected them to dominate the Interior and the BCHL. They went through some growing pains early but never made any panic moves. Coach Mark Ferner stuck with his guys, stuck with his systems and they rewarded him for it. He also made a huge move at the trade deadline in acquiring Cam Brodie and Mike Leidl. Their biggest need was a savvy veteran, physical presence on the blue line... so they got two of them in the same deal. There was no question in my mind at the time that it was a great move, and it seems to have put them over the top. It's great seeing the classy former Smoke Eater Brodie get that win to end his junior career.

I remember a lot of people were critical of some of these players last season. The Jones Twins were too soft to get it done in the playoffs? They were team leaders this year in the post-season. Andrew Hammond was just an average goalie and not good enough to get them to the dance? Hammond was a rock and took the Vipers on their drive for five. There aren't enough big, physical players up front and Vernon could get beat up? They not only survived the grind of the playoffs but they thrived in it.

The Vipers are not favourites in the Trail area that's for sure. In some ways it's hard to see one of your rivals having so much success. However, in my dealings with the Vipers they've always been classy and professional, so I'm happy to see them bring the Royal Bank Cup back to the BCHL where it belongs. Congratulations to everybody involved in that organization for reaching the ultimate goal of any Junior A hockey team.

Here's an interview I did with Kellen Jones on Mountain FM's Overtime after Vernon started the tournament with three wins:

Kellen Jones at the RBC

Click here to download


...Brian over at the Making Cents Blog says Merritt has hired a new coach. Credit to the Cents for acting fast after they officially announced they'd be back for next season. This is still very late in the recruiting season to have someone new doing the job, but it's better now than in June. It sounds like Joey Bouchard was a winner in Junior B. Hopefully fans and the executive will give him time and patience to put his stamp on a team that has been in the basement for the last two seasons. You won't win overnight.

...Congratulations also to the Kelowna Rockets for their win in the WHL finals. Former Smoke Eater Lucas Bloodoff nearly had the game winner in game 6 (he scored to make it 2-1) before Calgary tied things up. How cool is it to win a championship at home in overtime? It was an exciting and dramatic game that was unfortunately on TV at the same time as the Canucks' usual choke job so not enough people saw it. Congrats to Lucas, his brother Evan and Travis' brother Kyle St. Denis for their big win. Good luck to them at the Memorial Cup. I'll have an interview with Lucas tonight on Overtime.

...Sorry for the delay on the Naka interview, I'll have that up soon as well.

...I can't believe credible sports journalists and commentators are suggesting the NHL should expand into Southern Ontario so they can collect the big expansion fee. Isn't that kind of short sighted thinking part of what got the league into it's bloated current status? When you have dud franchises in Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville, Florida and Long Island just to name a few it's not time to expand. It's time to find those teams new homes or to close up shop. More teams? How can they consider that when the house isn't in order. I believe in a team in Southern Ontario, but the league is insane if they don't achieve that by relocation when eventually some of these weak teams are going to go completely bust.

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