Around the BCHL: West Kelowna Warriors keep winning and Vipers suffer another hard-luck loss

Around the BCHL takes a look at happenings within the BCHL and through the junior A world.

Welcome to the November 1, 2018 (we’re already into November????) edition of Around the BCHL.

The West Kelowna Warriors are on a roll.

Winners of five straight games, West K has moved within one point of Merritt for the Interior division lead. Their latest victory was a huge one, a 6-2 triumph over the defending BCHL champion Wenatchee Wild Tuesday night at Royal LePage Place.

Prior to that, the Warriors beat Penticton (3-2), Trail (4-3), Salmon Arm (4-1) and Penticton again (5-3). The second Vees victory was particularly momentous for West Kelowna, which rarely escapes the South Okanagan Events Centre with a W.

The Warriors have two players within the top 20 in BCHL scoring in Willie Reim (18-9-15-24) and Chase Dubois (19-6-14-20) and the team averages 3.5 goals per game. Defensively they’re middle of the road, but considering the firepower they face within their own division, goalies Brock Baier (.920 save percentage) and Connor Hopkins (.912 SP) are doing OK.

West Kelowna, Merritt and Salmon Arm are helping turn the Interior division on its ear this season.

I figured hot and cold starts would eventually level out and the perennial powerhouses would rise to the top, but we’re a third of the way through the season and it’s yet to happen. Wenatchee is muddling along at 9-8-2-0, sixth in the division. Vernon (7-5-4-2) is one spot above them and the mighty Vees are fourth at 9-6-0-2.

That said, six points separate first from worst.

One good weekend could have one of the heavyweights back on top, but it’s looking more and more like the upstarts aren’t going away.

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Off to a horrendous start at 4-13-1-1, the Cowichan Valley Capitals sent a 20 year old packing on Halloween, trading defenceman Marshall Skapski to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Melfort Mustangs.

Future considerations come the other way.

It’s never easy getting traded, and Skapski has played more than 100 games (103) in a Caps jersey, but the Abbotsford native heads to a better hockey environment. The Mustangs are 10-5-1-0 in early season play, in the thick of the race in the SJHL’s Sherwood division. The Abbotsford native gets away from the mess that is the 2018-19 Caps and gets to finish up his junior A career with a playoff race and potentially a long playoff run.

This probably ends his BCHL career, which is a good reason to remember his first BCHL goal.

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The Vernon Vipers got themselves an NCAA scholarship this week as 18 year old forward Nick Cherkowski commited to Merrimack College.

Cherkowski collected his first career junior A goal last weekend in a game versus the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and has four points in 16 games this season.

Nick Cherkowski of the Vernon Vipers and Kyle Chernenkoff of the Trail Smoke Eaters battle for the puck in the corner in BCHL action earlier this season at Kal Tire Place. LISA MAZUREK PHOTO

The Vernon native is the second BCHLer to announce a Merrimack commitment this week, following in the skate-steps of Coquitlam Express forward Regan Kimens.

“We are absolutely thrilled for Nick and his family,” said Vernon head coach and general manager, Mark Ferner in a team news release. “He’s a great player, teammate and person and it’s always special when these commitments happen to local kids.”

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Sticking with Vernon, they have been hit with another major defection to the Western Hockey League.

The Vipers lost star forward Josh Prokop to the Calgary Hitmen in late September, and now they’ve lost goaltender Max Palaga to the Everett Silvertips.

The 18 year old had played very well in limited action with Vernon, posting two wins, a 1.77 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in five appearances.

But he always seem destined to go back to the WHL, where he played 17 games last season with the Kamloops Blazers. The Blazers traded Palaga’s rights to Everett for a sixth round bantam draft pick and now he’s rejoining the major junior ranks.

His departure seemingly leaves Aidan Porter as the main man in the Vernon net, which could be a problem.

The 19 year old rookie has been OK through his first 11 junior A appearances, posting four wins with a 2.70 GAA and .904 SP.

But OK doesn’t get it done in the high-flying Interior division. Vernon had a rock-solid netminding tandem last season, with all-star Ty Taylor backed up by Anthony Yamnitsky. Ferner may decide Porter can get it done, or he may go shopping for an upgrade.

Either way, Palaga’s departure is a major loss.

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Sticking with Vernon again, the Vipers have suffered some hard-luck losses this season, and that continued Wednesday night.

The Salmon Arm Silverbacks tied the game 3-3 on a Matthew Verboon goal scored with just 10 seconds remaining, and won it in a shootout.

On October 14, Vernon and Chilliwack were tied 2-2 in the final minute when Chiefs forward Matt Holmes scored the winner with 21 ticks remaining. On October 10, Surrey tied a game with 15 seconds remaining and won it 59 seconds into overtime on a Riley Hayles goal.

The Vipers lead the league in overtime losses with four.

Consider this. If Vernon hangs on to last minute leads against Salmon Arm and Surrey, they’re tied with Merritt for first in the Interior division.

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Finally, jersey news.

The Chiefs are wearing a new look for Saturday night’s home game versus Salmon Arm. It’s Chilliwack FC (soccer) night at Prospera Centre and here’s a few of the boys modeling a black/silver/white look.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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