The Vernon Vipers are moving on to the B.C. Hockey League Interior Division final series.
The Vipers grounded the Trail Smoke Eaters 6-2 before 1,825 fans Thursday night at Kal Tire Place to win the divisional best-of-seven semifinal series 4-1.
Vernon captain Riley Brandt, a Trail product who scored one of two Viper empty-netters, hugged his cousin, Spencer McLean and several close friends as the teams exchanged handshakes.
“It’s always tough to see,” said Brandt. “I’ve been lifelong buddies with a lot of guys on that team and I have tremendous respect for that group. They battled their bags off every night. They have us nothing really; we had to earn every single goal. Every game was a battle.”
Austin Adamson, d-man Michael Ufberg, Jagger Williamson (shorthanded), blueliner Cooper Watson and Jimmy Lambert (empty netter) completed the Vernon offence in front of Darion Hanson.
Mitchell Barker and Russ Armour replied for the Smoke Eaters, who had former North Okanagan Knight Zach Dyment in net.
Trail captain Connor Brown-Maloski, who ended a long BCHL career, was in no hurry to take his jersey off in a quiet but proud Smokie dressing room.
“We’re a family in there and it sucks, but if you look at where we were at the start of the year and what we accomplished, you can’t look at it as a loss,” said Brown-Maloski. “We’re celebrating the year and the time we had together. It was definitely one of the better years of my junior career with the guys in that room, and I’m going to miss them.”
The Merritt Centennials upended the host Penticton Vees 5-4 before 2,856 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre. The Vees lead that series 3-2 with the winner meeting Vernon.