What looked so promising after forty minutes, turned to heartbreak in just minutes for the Penticton Vees on Saturday.
The Vernon Vipers erased a two-goal third period deficit, to win game seven of the Interior Division Final 4-3 in overtime at the SOEC.
Michael McNicholas played the hero’s role in overtime, scoring just two minutes into the extra frame, ending the Vees 2013-2014 season. It’s the Vipers first Interior Division title since 2011 and the first time in three seasons the Vees fail to reach the Fred Page Cup Final.
It was a dream start for Penticton, as Ben Dalpe opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game, whipping over three thousand fans into a frenzy. Max Coatta moved into the Vipers zone on the left-wing and found Dalpe in front, who squeezed a shot through Austin Smith at 2:43.
The crowd was silenced seconds later however, as Brett Mulcahy scored just sixteen seconds after the Dalpe marker. The puck made its way back to the blue-line and Josh Bryan’s bullet from the point was tipped in by Mulcahy at the top of the crease.
The Vees regained the lead early in the second when Brad McClure and Cody DePourcq teamed up on four-on-four shift. McClure took full advantage of the extra room, as he skated in on the left-wing before throwing a backdoor pass to DePourcq on the glove-side at 5:40.
After some good work on the penalty-kill, the Vees gave themselves some breathing room late in the frame. Erik Benoit beat three Vipers down the right-wing, bouncing off bodies in the process, before centering to Steen Cooper in front. Cooper corralled the puck, and then snapped it over a lunging Smith and into a yawing cage at 18:41.
The Vipers, down 3-1 at the start of the third period and facing elimination, rallied midway through the frame to draw level.
First, Colton Sparrow tapped-in a slick cross-ice pass from McNicolas on the power-play at 7:59 to cut the deficit to one. Then just 73 seconds later, Mulcahy picked up his second of the night, when he crashed the Vees crease after a rebound out front at 9:12.
The Vees had a chance to go ahead in the dying moments of the third, when Cooper was hit with a pass in the Vernon left-circle. Benoit dragged the puck around the net and tossed it over to Cooper, who had room on the blocker side but the puck jumped over his stick with just seven seconds left in regulation.
The Vipers now meet Island Division winners Victoria and Coast Division winners Coquitlam in a three team double round robin to determine which two teams will play in the league final.
The double round robin begins Friday when the Vipers play in Victoria. Vernon will host Coquitlam Sunday.