Congratulations are in order to the Vernon Vipers for winning a second straight Royal Bank Cup. The road to the RBC is a long and tough one. It's pretty incredible for one franchise to do it in back to back seasons. We all said at the beginning of the year that the Vipers had to be the favourites with so many returning players. However, they also lost some key pieces from last year's team like their Captain Chris Crowell, the twin towers of Cam Brodie and Mike Leidle on the blue line, and their goaltender Andrew Hammond.
The road to the national championship wasn't quite as smooth this time around. Last year they didn't lose a game outside of the BCHL playoffs, but this year thee Vipers had to deal with very serious tests in every round of the playoffs. That started with a surprising push from Quesnel, a battle of titans with Penticton, seven game wars against Powell River and Spruce Grove, and the pressure of the single elimination Royal Bank Cup tournament. While it was a bumpy ride and players like goaltender Graeme Gordon came under some fire along the way, perhaps that makes it a little bit sweeter for Vernon as they taste champagne tonight.
People in the BCHL like to say we're involved in the best Junior A league in Canada. The Vipers helped prove that over the past couple of years. I would say this Vipers team stacks up with the best Junior A teams of all time. I'd be shocked if coaches Mark Ferner and Jason Williamson didn't get the opportunity to further advance their coaching career as a result.
I also want to make special note of another clutch performance by Montrose's Jones Twins. Kellen came up with 2 goals and an assist in the 8-1 victory over Dauphin in the RBC final. He finished the tournament tied for the scoring lead. Meanwhile, Connor returned from injury with key contributions in both the semi-finals and finals. I'm not sure if the Jones' have ever come up short in a big game environment.
What a junior career for them too. BCHL finals appearances in 3 out of 4 years to go along with back to back Royal Bank Cup wins. A combined 371 points in 317 games while being on the top power play and penalty kill units. They also took a ton of punishment and knew how to get the little things done. What more could you ask for from these two? I know a number of Trail fans are not huge on the Jones' because they chose to go to Vernon rather than stay home. However, the story is never as simple as it seems, and you can't discount their contributions to Trail baseball. They're still very hard working young men from this area whose accomplishments are worth celebrating. The other thing worth celebrating? They won't be in Vernon anymore! There is no question in my mind they were the biggest reason for the back to back national championships and that won't be easy for the Vipers to replace.
GAWRYLETZ SIGNS AHL DEAL
Trail native and former Smoke Eater Travis Gawryletz has signed a one year deal with Lake Erie of the American Hockey League. Travis got called up from Elmira of the ECHL and scored 12 points in 51 AHL games this past season. He played well enough to earn a contract for the second half of the season and now to get signed up again for next year.
Gawryletz may not score a ton, but he is the type of defenseman that any coach would love. He plays a relatively mistake free game and immediately earned the confidence of the staff in Lake Erie. This contract will likely give Travis a chance to go to training camp with the Coloroado Avalanche as well. Hopefully he can make a strong impression there with his work ethic, good skating and smart play.
RALEY TO ST. LAWRENCE
Former Smoke Eater defenseman Patrick Raley is headed to St. Lawrence University in the NCAA next season. Not only will Raley be following in his brother Matt's footsteps there, but he'll also get a chance to play with him. That'll make it easier for the Raley family to follow their boys!
Raley made huge strides from his first year in the BCHL to his next. As a rookie he was in and out of the Vernon line-up before his trade to the Smokies. However, he put in a ton of work in the off season and came back a much more physically ready player. Raley deserved the increased ice time he earned and would've been one of the top guys on the Smokies in his third year if he hadn't left for the USHL. He made huge strides in his Trail career and I would think that played a big part in him getting this opportunity.
Congratulations to Patrick and good luck to him in college hockey. He's a first class young man who deserves whatever success he achieves. I hope the time at St. Lawrence ends up being everything he hopes for.
REVISITING THE USHL ISSUE
It's too bad that things didn't work out for Patrick in the USHL. He left Trail so that he would have the chance to play at home in Chicago, but he got traded not only to another city but to another league when the Steel sent him to St. Louis in the North American league. Raley did thrive in St. Louis where he had 26 points in 33 games.
However, his story is just one example of how the grass is not always greener in the USHL. Sahir Gill left Vernon for Chicago and ended up coming right back to the Vipers at the trade deadline. Danny DeKeyser went to Sioux City and had 11 points in 41 games. He got the scholarship he wanted but he had only played 7 games in the league at that stage. I don't know this for a fact, but if Danny only got 11 points I would think he wasn't getting the level of ice time he deserved. In Trail he had 25 points as a rookie and earned top pairing minutes.
CarsenChubak also went from Powell River to Tri-City in the USHL. His numbers took a big hit and the team went no where. How did the Kings do? They made another run back to the BCHL finals and took the Vipers to seven games.
These decisions are never easy. Every young man and their family is looking to do the best thing for their future. I'm not saying they all made mistakes. However, the results of the "defections" just seemed to indicate that perhaps sometimes the best move is the one you don't make.
KEHLER'S CONTRACT NOT RENEWED
The Swift Current Broncos decided not to renew the contract of former Smoke Eaters Coach Tim Kehler last week. Kehler had been an assistant with the WHL club for the past three seasons. From reading Jon Keen's blog it would appear that Coach and GM Mark Lamb just wanted to be able to bring in his own guy after taking over the team last year. That kind of thing happens in hockey all the time and isn't really a reflection of Tim's work in my view. All the comments about him seem to be really positive. It's just a matter of time before he finds work elsewhere.
CHASE AND BURNABY LOSE THEIR TEAMS
It's official, BC Hockey has approved the relocation of the KIJHL's Chase Chiefs to Rutland and the BCHL's Burnaby Express back to Coquitlam. I know there are reasons for both of these moves, but it's never a good day when a city loses their team. My sympathies to the fans in both markets. That being said, Burnaby fans won't exactly have far to go if they want to keep following the Express and Chase is expected to be up for an expansion team in the KIJHL for the 2011-2012 season.
As discussed previously, the Chase move opens up some big questions for the KIJHL. Teams around the league have been picking up players from the Kelowna market. Are all the best players from there now going to find themselves on this new Rutland club? Also, is this what the KIJHL is meant to do? I've been told by several sources that the league's mandate has been to thrive in markets that aren't touched by other junior leagues. Now they've got teams in Kelowna, Kamloops and Penticon. The league is moving away from unserviced fanbases and now instead putting themselves into bigger markets with larger player pools and more corporate money. I hope that doesn't lead to too much of a competitive imbalance. I also wonder if the ever growing group of teams in the Thompson/Okanagan are eventually going to end up forming their own league. A KIJHL split would still leave us with two leagues that are basically the same size as the VIJHL and PIJHL.
COMING UP ON OVERTIME
For those of you in the West Kootenay we've got some interesting stuff coming up on Overtime this week. I'll be chatting with new Smokies Assistant Coach Bill Birks as well as the new Castlegar Rebels Coach Steve Junker. For those our of our broadcast area stay tuned to the blog for that audio as well as an interview I did with Travis Gawryletz on Friday. You can also check out the Overtime and Sports sections of our website at http://www.mountainfm.net/.