By Mario Annicchiarico, Edmonton Journal
The Vernon Vipers are just one win away from securing their third straight trip to the Royal Bank Cup.
Bryce Kakoske’s goal just 35 seconds into overtime, propelled the British Columbia Junior Hockey League champions to a 3-2 win Thursday night over the hometown Spruce Grove Saints, who are not accustomed to losing at Grant Fuhr Arena.
With the Game 5 win, Vernon leads the best-of-seven Doyle Cup series — between the Alberta and B.C. Champions — 3-2.
Game 6 is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. in Spruce Grove. The winner of the series advances to the Royal Bank Cup, the national Junior A championship, beginning April 30 in Camrose.
All three Vernon goals came early in a period, silencing the 1,300 estimated Saints fans.
“We were stressing good starts. Obviously, we got a couple of good bounces early and then mine, in overtime, it just kind of landed on my stick and it wasn’t too hard to put it away,” Kakoske said of his rebound winner.
The victory was the second straight on the road for the Vipers, defeating a team that usually comes away with wins in its own barn. But Vernon isn’t taking a 3-2 series advantage lightly against the Saints, who were ranked No. 1 in the country for most of the year.
“They’re a good team, obviously,” said Kakoske. “We know that. We played them last year (winning in seven games). We know that by no stretch is this over.”
For the second straight night the Vipers received a solid performance from netminder Kirby Halcrow, who not only hurt the Saints with key stops, but garnered an assist. On a Saints line change, Halcrow alertly knifed the puck up to David Robinson, who flipped it to Dylan Walchuk for his second of the night, on the power play at 1:05 of the third period, for a 2-1 lead.
But David Glen tied it up at 2-2 on a rebound midway through the third.
Much earlier, the teams traded goals, with Walchuk going five-hole on Saints netminder Vincenzo Marozzi just 1:06 into the game before Spruce Grove’s Scott Allen replied just 12 seconds later. Both goals came on the clubs’ respective first shots.
A scoreless second period had its moments, as Halcrow flashed his glove to stone Brent Henke and Spruce Grove looked to take a 2-1 lead when Brent Switzer snapped a wrister from his off-wing that went off the inside of the post. The red light came on, but the potential goal was waved off with 3:43 to go in the middle frame.
A big difference in Games 4 and 5 was the struggling Saints’ power play. After going one-for-five in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss, it went scoreless on four opportunities on Thursday, including 44 seconds of five-on-three just seven minutes into the game.
“We had some chances, especially early,” said Saints head coach Jason McKee. “We had some goalmouth scrambles. For whatever reason — and he made a couple of good saves, too — but I thought we had some chances. I think a little bit of the turning point was the five-on-three chance. I thought we needed to capitalize on that. We didn’t and that took a little life out of us.”