The Chilliwack Progress

Chiefs vs. Vipers: Opposites Attract


(This article was originally published on May. 31, 2020)

Twenty-one years ago a rivalry was born. The Chilliwack Chiefs and Vernon Vipers started a five-year rivalry that comprised of the two teams facing off in the Fred Page Cup Finals four times in five years.

Most people wouldn’t suspect such a rivalry could happen given that both teams play in different divisions/conferences, but for a time, it became more than just the players on the ice. In 2002, it spilled out into an altercation between team personnel and fans. Here is a look at how the Chiefs and Vipers became the biggest rivalry in the BCHL in the early 2000s.

Planting the seeds for a rivalry

The Chiefs entered the BCHL in 1990 after the Richmond Sockeyes relocated to Chilliwack. Vernon had been in the league for several years, and under the Lakers name won the Centennial Cup as national champions in 1990 and 1991.

Before 1999, the Chiefs and Lakers played in two playoff series, in 1991 and 1992. The Lakers won both series 4-2 and the league championship in both seasons.

In 1995, the Lakers rebranded and changed their name to the Vipers. The Chiefs claimed their first BCHL championship in 1995 over Powell River. Chilliwack and Vernon only faced each other twice a year in the regular season before the 1999 finals.

In 1999, Chilliwack and Vernon were two of the top teams in the league. Vernon had the best record at 52-6-2 for 108 points and Chilliwack was the third-best team with a 38-20-2 record for 78 points.

The playoffs saw Chilliwack play one more series then Vernon, beating Cowichan Valley 3-0, Victoria 3-2, and Surrey 4-3 in a very hard-fought battle. Meanwhile, Vernon had a nice easy run in beating Merritt 4-1 and Prince George 4-0.

Chilliwack was battle-tested, banged up and tired from all the travel it had done before the finals, going to Vancouver Island for two straight series and going the distance with arch-rival Surrey. Vernon did have to travel up to Prince George during the Interior Final but luckily didn’t have to go back a second time.

Chilliwack was led by captain and future head coach Brian Maloney, high scoring centre Travis Banga, tough guys Brandon Fleenor and Shawn Landry, offensive-minded defenseman Jeff Yopyk, who scored a big OT goal against Surrey, and starting goalie and future NHLer Wade Dubielewicz.

Vernon was led by leading scorer Lanny Gare and Tyler Knight, tough guys Josh Reed, Kori Davison, and Lenny Rampone, and starting goalie and future NHLer Derek Gustafson.

The initial battle for supremacy

The series started in Vernon, which had won home ice by being the best team in the regular season. Chilliwack came out flat as it was coming off a seven-game series. The Vipers got on the board first when Scott Krahn put one past Dubielewicz, and Gare put them up by two with just seconds left in the first.

In the second, the Chiefs came out flying and put 22 shots on Gustafson. Chilliwack got its first goal from Kris Mattice on the power play.

The Chiefs tied the game on a short-handed goal by Mark Smith, but Vernon took the lead back when Davison scored a power-play goal. Chiefs forward Nolan Graham tied the game at three and Chilliwack took its first lead of the game when Vlad Klochkov tipped in a shot from Brad McFaul to make it 4-3.

The Chiefs didn’t give up the lead and won game one 8-5 in a barn burner. Chilliwack got goals from Klochkov, Smith, and Maloney in the third, but Vernon didn’t back down going into game two.

In game two, Vernon came out using its speed to crash the Chiefs net. Vipers import Petr Chytka opened the scoring late in the first with an unassisted goal at 17:40. Chilliwack tied the game late in the second when Graham got one from Don Nichols at 18:49.

Vernon then took control of the third and showed why it was the best team in the BCHL. Chytka scored his second of the game from David Bussoli at 1:45, and less than a minute later, Knight got his first before future Carolina Hurricanes forward Ryan Bayda and Gare sealed the game for the Vipers. Bayda added an empty-net goal to send the series to Chilliwack tied at one.

Game three shifted to the Chilliwack Coliseum, one of the most rugged and loud buildings in the BCHL at the time. They played the next three games in Chilliwack. Vernon won game three 7-6 in another barn burner.

Game four was more of a defensive struggle with Vernon getting the win 2-1. The Vipers sealed the deal with an 8-2 blowout in game five. Vernon went on to win the Mowat Cup over Kimberley, the Doyle Cup over the Calgary Canucks, and the Royal Bank Cup.

Photo Credit: The Chilliwack Progress / Black Press Media

Chiefs look for redemption

In 2000, Vernon came in as not only the defending BCHL champions but also the defending national champions after winning their fourth by defeating the Charlottetown Abbies 9-3 in Yorkton. Chilliwack was looking to improve on the previous season and win the BCHL championship.

Vernon had five returnees from their national championship run including Davison and Ken Magowan. Chilliwack, which was celebrating ten years in the BCHL, had five returnees from the previous season as well, including Banga, Greg Keith, Kevin Estrada, and McFaul. Vernon went with returnee Chris King as its number one goalie and Chilliwack had Nathan Marsters and 15-year-old Ryan Cyr in goal.

The two teams each finished second in their divisions. Vernon had a 35-20-5 record and Chilliwack finished 35-20-5 as well. The playoffs saw the Chiefs play one more series than Vernon, beating Cowichan Valley 4-0, Nanaimo 4-2, and Langley 4-2.

Vernon beat Prince George 4-2 and Merritt 4-3 to set up a second straight Fred Page Cup Finals meeting between Chilliwack and Vernon.

The Chiefs came out red hot to win game one 7-3 in the very tough Civic Centre in Vernon. Vernon answered back in game two with a 6-3 win to even the series heading back to Chilliwack.

The Chiefs took control with two amazing performances by Marsters, who stopped 25 of 26 in game three and 33 of 34 in game four. The Chiefs won game three 5-1 and game four 6-1 to send the series back to Vernon for game five.

Photo Credit: The Chilliwack Progress / Black Press Media

Game five saw the Chiefs strike early and often. They scored their first goal by Gabe Gauthier at 1:27 and less than a minute later Matt Gibbons put one in at 2:18 and the Chiefs didn’t let up, going into the second with a 5-0 lead. Vernon tried to come back by getting two from Krahn on the powerplay at 4:00 and 7:20, but it was too much to overcome. The Chiefs sealed the deal with goals from Nathan Martz at 25 seconds and Wyatt Tunnicliffe at 18:48 to secure their second BCHL championship in five years.

In 2001, the Chiefs and Vipers only saw each other during the regular season as Vernon missed the playoffs, and Chilliwack was upset in the first round by Surrey.

Hostilities escalate

The 2002 playoffs started with the Chiefs coming off a disappointing first-round exit and Vernon missing the post-season.

Chilliwack had several returning players and also added lots of scoring and toughness to their lineup. The Chiefs added back up goalie Steve Vallee, forwards Jeff Royston, Adam Powell and Matt Kunsman, and defensemen Ralph Vos and Shawn Germain. Vernon only had a handful of returnees including Neil Harrison, Jason Williamson, David Morelli, and tough guy Ryan Singer. The Vipers also hired Mike Vandekamp as head coach.

Both teams had lots of firepower up front, stability on the back end and tough guys to police and protect the stars. Chilliwack added even more toughness with the acquisition of Matt Bickley from Burnaby to play alongside Tyson Terry.

Chilliwack was the top team in the league with a 46-10-0-4 record, which was the best in team history, and Vernon was the top team in the Interior Division with a 33-21-0-6 record. In the playoffs, Chilliwack beat Coquitlam 4-1, Surrey 3-0, and Nanaimo 4-1. Vernon beat Merritt 4-0 and got a bye to the Conference Finals. Then the Vipers topped Penticton 4-3 to set up another Chiefs-Vipers final series.

This series had some real bad blood on the ice and off, including a line brawl and a trainer punching a mascot.

Game one saw the Vipers shut out the Chiefs 4-0. Tyson Motz was the first goalie since 1999 to shutout the Chiefs in a playoff series. Game two was a similar situation with Vernon winning 4-1. Chilliwack’s lone goal came from Micah Sanford, his 21st of the playoffs, to set a new BCHL record.

Game three was a tight contest with the Chiefs winning 3-1. And then things got ugly in game four. With a 4-2 lead, a line brawl ensued. Chilliwack forward Kaleb Betts squared off with Vipers winger Josh Ciocco and Chiefs defenseman Jeff Barlow took on Vipers goalie Tyson Motz. Everyone had a partner except Chiefs goalie Marc Narduzzi.

Things got worse as Vipers forward Ryan Singer ran Vallee and elbowed him in the head with about one minute to go. The Chiefs won the game 4-2, sending it back to Vernon where things got even worse.

In game five, Chilliwack dominated 8-2 but the game included an altercation between the Vipers trainer and Chiefs mascot Kris Reddeman.

During a time out, the Chiefs fans made lots of noise behind the Vipers bench. Vernon’s trainer turned around and started punching Reddemen several times due to his drumming to help Chiefs gain an edge. The altercation resulted in a lawsuit against the trainer and the Vipers. Reddeman was awarded $35,000 against the trainer in 2005, but the case against the Vipers was thrown out.

Photo Credit: The Chilliwack Progress / Black Press Media

The teams travelled back to Chilliwack for game six where the Chiefs once again dominated the game by scoring early and secured their second BCHL title in three years. The Chiefs went on to beat the Drayton Valley Thunder 4-2 to win the Doyle Cup and head to the Royal Bank Cup in Halifax.

One year later, the Vipers answer back

2003 saw the Chiefs come back from their second trip to the national championship with disappointment that they couldn’t get it done and lost 4-3 in the semi-final to the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL. Vernon sought revenge for the loss in the finals to the Chiefs.

Chilliwack had five returnees from the 2002 championship team, including Bobby Henderson, Tyson Terry, Jeff Royston, and Adam Powell. Vernon had Jason Bourne, Chad Brownlee, Mark Nelson, and Matt Waddell.

Both teams were the best in their division again that season. Chilliwack had a 36-17-1-6 record and Vernon was 47-12-0-1 for tops in the league. In the playoffs, Chilliwack eliminated Coquitlam 4-3, Powell River 3-0, and Surrey 4-1. Vernon beat Penticton 4-0 and had a bye to the Conference Final where they beat Trail 4-0 to set up the final chapter in this long five-year rivalry.

The series started in Chilliwack. Vernon won game one 4-1 and game two 4-3 after Brent Kisio scored at 4:10 of overtime. The series then switched to Vernon.

The Vipers dominated the game, winning 5-1 to set up a chance for a sweep and a perfect record in the playoffs. Game four was a hard-fought defensive battle, but Vernon got the only goal when Bryan MacGregor scored with 28 seconds left in the first period to sweep the Chiefs. Vernon would win the Doyle Cup but fell short of the Royal Bank Cup, losing to the Camrose Kodiaks 4-2.

Photo Credit: The Chilliwack Progress / Black Press Media

In 2004, the Chiefs and Vipers finished second in their respective divisions. Both teams bowed out of the playoffs early. The Chiefs lost in the second round to the eventual champion in Nanaimo and the Vipers fell in the elimination round to the Trail Smoke Eaters.

The rivalry is reborn – sort of

The Chiefs and Vipers haven’t met in the finals since 2003. Chilliwack moved to Langley in 2006 to make way for the WHL, and Vernon continued its dominance of the Interior Division by fostering rivalries with teams like Penticton and Salmon Arm.

The rivalry was reborn again for one season when the Chiefs returned to Chilliwack after the Chiefs Development Group bought the Quesnel Millionaires in 2011.

The Chiefs played the 2011-12 season in the Interior Conference as they did back in 1990. Chilliwack and Vernon faced each other six times during the season, which culminated in the teams playing for the last playoff spot in the conference.

Chilliwack hosted Vernon on the second to last weekend of the season and the Chiefs knocked off the defending three-time BCHL champions 4-2 to cause the Vipers to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2000-01.

Since that game just over eight years ago, the Chiefs and Vipers have played each other 14 times in regular-season play and each game was a reminder of the rivalry that started 21 years ago. Hopefully one day these two great franchises have a chance to revive the playoff rivalry once more.