Harvey Smyl has never missed the playoffs in his BCHL coaching career, and he won’t be missing the dance this season.
His Chilliwack Chiefs clinched an Interior conference playoff spot Tuesday night, dumping the Vernon Vipers 4-2 at Prospera Centre.
The Chiefs assured themselves of at least a fourth place finish, in the process knocking the Vipers out of the postseason picture for the first time since 2000-01.
Needing nothing less than an outright win, the Vipers played like a desperate team in the first period, and had two or three glorious chances.
The best of the bunch belonged to Darren Nowick.
The California native flew down the right wing, drawing Chiefs keeper Mitch Gillam out of his net. Rather than shoot, Nowick swooped behind the net. With Gillam way out of position, all Nowick had to do was tuck the wraparound into the unguarded cage.
The 20-year-old couldn’t do it, throwing the puck across the crease and out the other side.
Gillam made a couple point blank stops later in the period, helping his team escape to the first intermission in a scoreless tie despite being out-shot 12-6.
The offence gave their goalie some help early in the middle frame, scoring twice in 1:08.
Alex Perron-Fontaine scored the first on a Chiefs power play. The Quebec native snuck in from the point and punched a loose puck past Vernon netminder Kirby Halcrow for his third of the season, and first since early November.
On the next shift, Kit Sitterley flung the puck on net from the left corner, and Trevor Hills chipped it past Halcrow for his 15th.
But with their season on the line, the Vipers weren’t going to go quietly.
Chilliwack did themselves no favours with a steady march to the penalty box that handed Vernon three straight power plays.
The Vipers got on the board with the man advantage.
Shay Laurent was parked in the penalty box for boarding as Tambellini popped a rebound past Gillam for his 24th.
Vernon tied the game one second after a charging penalty to Michael Spring had elapsed. Michael Zalewski set Nowick up with a cute little drop pass, and Nowick wired the puck up and over Gillam’s glove for his team-leading 27th.
The Vipers out-shot the Chiefs 17-11 in period two.
The third period got off to a scary start for the Chiefs, who lost one of their key forwards for the game, and perhaps more.
Hills was part of an awkward collision in front of the Vernon net and was crawling towards the Chilliwack bench when the whistle blew. The New York native was helped to the dressing room putting minimal weight on his left leg.
Things looked a little better a couple minutes later when David Thompson one-timed a point shot through traffic and past Halcrow for his ninth.
Vernon was in full desperation mode from there, needing two goals to save their season.
The Chiefs threw some fuel on the fire, taking an ill-advised too many men penalty with just over six minutes left. But Gillam came up with a pair of huge saves, thwarting Patrick McGillis and then Zalewski to keep the Vipers at bay.
Vernon coach Jason Williamson called Halcrow to the bench with 47 seconds left.
Gillam made one final huge stop off Tambellini and Chilliwack’s Josh Hansen sealed the deal with an empty net goal.
The three stars were Gillam (first), Thompson (second) and Tambellini (third).
Announced attendance was 1,710.