BCHL Today: Wenatchee goes Wild against Vernon Vipers

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the March 22, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

We start today with the Vernon Vipers, who are suddenly in a heap of trouble in their second round series versus the Wenatchee Wild.

Vernon lost 7-1 Wednesday night, experiencing a team-wide meltdown at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee. All-star goaltender Ty Taylor was pulled for the first time in 39 outings this season, letting in four goals on 28 shots before yielding the crease to Anthony Yamnitsky.

Taylor’s teammates managed just 19 shots on Wild goalie Austin Park, with Josh Latta the only Viper to beat him.

Meanwhile, the Wenatchee offence got healthy on home ice. Sam Morton and Josh Arnold scored two goals apiece with AJ Vanderbeck, Sam Hesler and Murphy Stratton adding singles. Twelve of the 18 Wild skaters picked up at least one point.

Notably absent from the Vernon lineup were Brett Stapley and Jagger Williamson.

Stapley was knocked out of game three with a concussion after taking a hard hit to the head from Wenatchee’s Nathan Iannone.

Vernon Morning Star sports writer Kevin Mitchell talked to Vipers bench boss Mark Ferner, who confirmed the injury.

“Stapes is done,” Ferner said. “He’s a tough kid and he played through it, but he complained of headaches after the game. He vomited to we took him to hospital for observation. There was no call on the play.”

Williamson was sidelined after taking a goalie interference penalty in game three. It was his third of the season which carries an automatic two game suspension.

Ferner filed an appeal, which was denied.

“The goalie (Austin Park) was outside the blue paint and Jags was waiting for a slap pass and there was just a little contact. The referee right there didn’t make the call; the back referee did,” Ferner noted.

With Stapley and Williamson out and Vernon already missing Josh Prokop (injured), Shane Kelly (injured) and Jack Judson (suspended), the Snakes were in a tough spot.

Ferner wasn’t done taking digs at the officials. This was his most pointed assessment, and will probably earn him a fine from the league office.

“We kind of warned the guys that you don’t know what you’re going to get (from American officials) and we got it. Five penalties in the first period which took some energy out of us.” Ferner told Mitchell, talking about game three refs Jared Boman and Mike Ellis. “The refs put their whistles away in the second period and called one penalty. It’s crazy. Every time we touched them, their whole bench erupted. It’s embarrassing. The refs hear them yelling and they figure it must be a penalty.”

The same pair officiated game four, giving each team four power play chances, but only two apiece through the first 40 minutes.

Side note: Stapes? At least go Staples there and sing ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ every time he walks by.

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The Vipers can take solace knowing their main rival for Interior division dominance is also suddenly struggling.

Penticton fell 6-3 in Trail Wednesday night as the Smoke Eaters tied that second round series at 2-2.

I wrote yesterday that Vees goaltender Adam Scheel was looking unexpectedly vulnerable in this series, and that continued in game four as he allowed five goals on just 24 shots for a playoff-low save percentage of .792. His save percentages in four games against Trail thus far have been .893, .920, .871 and .792 and his playoff SP has now dipped to .896.

Trail is smelling blood in the water. Kale Howarth, Tyler Ghirardosi, Andre Ghantous, Carter Jones and Seth Barton put pucks behind Scheel while Ross Armour scored into an empty net in the final minute.

Ghirardosi’s goal was an absolute beauty.

Trail’s goalie, Adam Marcoux, turned in a 28 save performance.

Wyatt Sloboshan, Jonny Tychonick and Lukas Sillinger scored for the Vees and if not for Scheel’s struggles the spotlight might be shining on Marcoux. Like Scheel, the Smokies stopper hasn’t been as strong as expected in these playoffs. Aside from a 30 save 4-0 shutout win over West Kelowna in round one, the Calgary native has been surprisingly meh, posting save percentages of .821, .920, 1.000, .909, .844, .800, .909 and .903 over eight postseason starts. That said, Marcoux is capable of stealing games when he’s on, and Trail will need to win at least one game in the South Okanagan Events Centre to take this series.

Marcoux gets his first chance Friday night, with a 7 p.m. start at the SOEC.

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Jumping to scholarship news and congrats to Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman Matt Slick, who has committed to the Holy Cross Crusaders.

The 18 year old is a player who surprised me in a good way this season. In September I had him pegged as a fifth or sixth defenceman with limited offensive upside who might have trouble hanging on to a roster spot. As Chilliwack head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic wheeled and dealed, bringing players in and shipping players out, I expected the New Hampshire native might end up on the transaction wire.

Instead, the six-foot-one and 208 pound blueliner played every single regular season game, and by year’s end had established himself as one of Coach T’s go-to guys. Slick logged big minutes against top forwards as one of Chilliwack’s most dependable defencemen. Even though he didn’t add a lot of offence (58-4-8-12) he became a hugely valuable player and the team’s 2017-18 Orland Kurtenbach Defenceman of the Year award winner.

It just goes to show how much things can change at this level in a short amount of time. Players you don’t think much of in September can be difference makers by March, and guys who look like dynamite in the early months can flatline.

Development is never linear.

I’m also happy for Slick because he has one of the best Twitter handles in the league, @SlickSauce76.

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Congrats to Merritt Centennials grad Jake Clifford for winning an Arthur Ashe Junior Scholar Athlete of the Year award.

Thirty four student athletes were recognized, with Clifford chosen from the ranks of men’s Div-I hockey. This is presented by the Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine. It goes to a student athlete who maintains a cumulative grade-point average of 3.2 or better and is active on campus and in the community. Clifford, who spent two seasons in Merritt (2013-15) and has just wrapped up his third season at Arizona State U, checks all the boxes.

He maintained a GPA of 3.43. According to a press release sent out by the ASU athletics department, Clifford ‘participated in several community service events, including visiting the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Zone as well as spending time with the One Step Bobcats and Mission AZ Ice Special Edition teams of the American Special Hockey Association on the ice at Oceanside during the season.’

“This prestigious award just further exemplifies what Jake Clifford is all about,” said Sun Devils head coach Greg Powers. “The character, maturity and leadership skills he has developed over the past three years at ASU have been amazing to witness. We are so proud of Jake for his accomplishments both on and off the ice. He is going to be tremendously successful in life.”

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Finally, a heartwarming story featuring a Coquitlam Express alum.

Brad Hunt played two years in the BCHL (2006-08), four at Bemidji State U (2008-12) and is now a big league defenceman with the National Hockey League’s Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Last week Hunt reunited with a young fella he met while playing minor-pro hockey in Oklahoma City. Hunt calls 10 year old Chase Buell his ‘little brother,’ and here’s the tale from the Las Vegas Review Journal’s Steve Carp.

reviewjournal.com/sports/golden-knights-nhl/fan-with-down-syndrome-like-little-brother-to-knights-brad-hunt/

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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