It’s a first for the B.C. Hockey League.
Since the Junior A league expanded to at least two divisions in 1970-71, two teams who finished in third place in their respective divisions in the regular season have never met in the Fred Page Cup championship.
The Vernon Vipers and Coquitlam Express are about to make history.
Both third-place teams advanced to the league final Thursday night when the Express knocked off the top-seeded Victoria Grizzlies 4-3 in triple overtime in Victoria in what turned out to be the last game of the semi-final round-robin tournament.
“We’re extremely excited to be in the final,” said Vipers head coach Jason Williamson Friday. “We set out at the beginning of the year to be in the final as one of our goals, and hopefully win it.”
The last time the BCHL final featured two teams that failed to win their division in the regular season was 2000-01, when the Victoria Salsa beat the Merritt Centennials in seven games. Both finished in second place during the season.
The 1992 Vernon Lakers (fourth) and ‘91 Lakers (third) are the lowest seeds to win the championship.
Coquitlam’s victory gave them a record of 2-1 through three games and eliminated Victoria, who were 0-3. The Vipers were 2-0 after taking their first two games.
The Express win gives Vernon home-ice advantage, as the Vipers were seeded second in the three-team round-robin, and Coquitlam was ranked third.
Both teams (Vernon, 11 days; Coquitlam, eight days) will have lengthy layoffs prior to the start of the best-of-seven Fred Page Cup championship Friday night, April 11, at Kal Tire Place. Game 2 is Saturday in Vernon before the series shifts to Coquitlam for Games 3 and 4 Monday and Tuesday, April 14 and 15.
Daniell Lange, on one of the few shifts he received in overtime, was the hero for Coquitlam Thursday.
He deflected home a Marc Biega wrister at 6:51 of the third overtime period to win it for the Express.
Coquitlam tied the game with exactly one minute left in regulation time on a goal by Ryan Rosenthal.
The Vipers whipped the Express 6-1 March 30 at Kal Tire Place in their second game of the semi-final round robin. Each team won at home during the season.
“We’ve always stressed we wanted to go about this the right way and win our way into the Royal Bank Cup,” said Williamson. “There’s only two teams left in our league and we’ve put ourselves into a good position.”
The winner of the Fred Page Cup will advance to the Western Canada Cup in Dauphin, Man. starting April 20 with the winners of the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba leagues, along with the host Dauphin Kings.
The top two teams from that tournament advance to the Royal Bank Cup Canadian tournament May 10-18 at Kal Tire Place.
The defending RBC Cup champion Brooks Bandits will not repeat.
They were knocked out in the Alberta league semifinals by the Drumheller Dragons, who will face the Fort McMurray Oil Barons or Spruce Grove Saints in the league final. Fort Mac leads 3-2 with game six tonight in the Fort.
Yorkton Terriers and Melville Millionaires are contesting the Saskatchewan final. The Manitoba league final features the Dauphin Kings and Winnipeg Blues. Both teams qualify for the Western Canada Cup.