One year ago, a pair of opposites were brought together to battle for the Fred Page Cup. In one corner, the Vernon Vipers looked to continue the franchise's proud tradition with their ninth appearance in the BCHL's Championship series since 1996. In the other, the Powell River Kings hit the big stage for the first time since 1995 and with zero league titles under their belt.
The six-game encounter proved closer than the teams' respective histories may have suggested, as the Vipers hoisted the trophy despite being outscored 10-8 in the final four games of the series. And as it turned out, the Kings were the last team to beat the soon-to-be RBC Cup champs, who posted 11 consecutive victories to close out the season.
Cue the rematch. 12 months after facing off in April of 2009, the Vipers and Kings are back to do battle once again. And while many of the players on both benches remain the same, there are no shortage of new faces that should alter the dynamics of the 2010 Fred Page Cup Finals.
Gone from the Kings' line-up are the high-scoring trio of Darcy Oakes, Kyle Bodie and Clay Harvey, who finished 1-2-3 in postseason scoring last year with 66 points amongst them. Filling their shoes are midseason pick-up Daniel Carr and Ontario import Matt Garbowsky, who along with captain Mat Bodie have combined 30 goals and 40 assists through three playoff rounds.
In net, Josh Watson has ably replaced the departed Carson Chubak. The 19-year old compiled a 12-4 record in the Coastal bracket while posting a goals-against average of 1.94 and a .921 save-percentage. Most impressively, with his team down three games to one against Alberni Valley in the Conference Finals, Watson allowed just two goals on 103 shots in a trio of wins that closed out a seven-game series win.
On the blueline, the Kings boast one of the league's deepest and most offensively gifted groups. Led by Bodie's 64 combined regular season and playoff points, complimented by the poise and experience of Reid Campbell, Jason Yee and Darcy Huisman, and topped off by the size and formidable shot of Justin Dasilva, Powell River is rarely at a disadvantage on defence.
Meanwhile, there are few holes to be poked in the line-up of a Vernon Vipers squad that lost just six times in regulation during a 60-game regular season. The defending champs are deep up front, where twins Connor and Kellen Jones set the tone with a relentless forecheck and excellent cycling abilities. RBC Cup veterans Braden Pimm, Mike Collins, Jonathan Milhouse and Cory Kane are amongst the team's secondary scoring threats, as the foursome's 252 combined regular season points demonstrates.
Defensively, the Vipers rely on a group that includes team captain Kevin Kraus, New Jersey Devils draft pick Curtis Gedig, and Ivy League commits Dan Nycholat and Adam Thompson. Nycholat has continued to post impressive offensive numbers in the playoffs following a 45-point campaign in his first BCHL season.
Graeme Gordon has given the Vipers just the type of steady goaltending they had hoped for when he replaced graduating starter Andrew Hammond this season. Both Gordon and rookie back-up Blake Voth posted fine regular season numbers, but Gordon has taken his game up a notch in 10 postseason appearances. In those starts, the 20-year old has picked up seven wins while allowing just 16 goals. His .940 save-percentage through three rounds leads all BCHL netminders by a sizable margin.
The clubs met twice during the 2009/10 regular season, with the Vipers winning at home and taking the head-to-head series after gaining a point in an overtime loss on the Sunshine Coast. With both of those meetings having taken place in the final month of the regular season (January 29th and February 4th), there should be some memories fresh in the minds of both clubs.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)