Vernon had something to prove heading into the 1995-96 BC Hockey League season. Duncan Wray, who owned the Lakers franchise since 1992, rebranded the team as the Vipers.
The Vipers finished the regular season as the second-best team in the BCHL. The team finished in first place in the Interior Division with a record of 43-13-4 and they accumulated 90 points, two points back of the first-place Chilliwack Chiefs.
The Snakes offense was led by their captain and second-year player Jeff Cheeseman, who exploded for 118 points in 59 games. This record still stands for the most points in a season in franchise history.
This record-breaking point total was good enough for fifth place in the BCHL as Chilliwack’s Shawn Horcoff had 145 points in 58 games as the league’s leading scorer.
The Vipers received a bye into the second round of the playoffs. Their opponent was the Nanaimo Clippers, who were the third seed in the Island Division. The Clippers played in a three-game series versus the Royal City Outlaws in the opening round and won it 2-1.
The quarterfinal series between Vernon and Nanaimo took five games with the Vipers coming out on top. The win sent the Vipers to play in the semifinals against the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
The series was no contest between the two clubs. Vernon beat the Capitals in a four-game sweep with the Vipers scoring 22 goals while only giving up 12. The Snakes were off to the Subway Cup BCHL finals against the Langley Hornets.
Vernon dominated the BCHL championship series as well, winning in five games against the Hornets and improving its post-season record to 12-2.
25 years ago, the winner of the BCHL wasn’t automatically BC’s champion of junior A hockey. The Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League was still in existence and the winners of each of these leagues squared off for a chance to play for the Doyle Cup against the Alberta Junior Hockey League champion.
The Vipers played the Prince George Spruce Kings in a three-game series and swept them to win the Mowat Cup as the provincial junior A champion.
The Snakes continued their quest for a national title with a series against the AJHL’s St. Albert Saints to determine the representative for the Pacific region at the RBC Cup.
It was the toughest playoff series for the Vipers to that point. The 1996 Doyle Cup went the distance and all seven games were needed, with Vernon coming out on top with a decisive 8-2 win in the clinching game.
The Vipers were headed to the RBC Cup, which was hosted by the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Mustangs in Melfort.
The teams who made it to the RBC Cup tournament were the Mustangs and Yorkton Terriers of the SJHL, the Newmarket 87’s of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, and the Moncton Beavers of the Maritime Junior Hockey Leauge.
In the round-robin portion of the tournament, the Snakes went 2-2. One of the losses came in the Abbott Cup, which was awarded to the winner of the round-robin game between the Doyle and ANAVET champions at the Royal Bank Cup. The Vipers, who were Doyle Cup champs, fell 5-1 to Melfort, which was the AVANET Cup champion.
Vernon’s two wins came against Moncton and Yorkton. The Vipers finished the round-robin in third place and clinched a spot in the semifinals, where they played Newmarket, which had beat them 7-5 earlier in the tournament.
The Vipers got their revenge against the 87’s with a 7-4 victory to earn a berth in the championship final.
The RBC Cup final game was against the hometown Melfort Mustangs and once again Vernon was looking for revenge as Melfort was the other team that beat the Vipers in the round-robin.
This time it was Vernon who silenced the hometown crowd as it won the game 2-0 to claim the franchise’s third national title.
The Vipers played in 30 games in the playoffs and went 23-7. Cheeseman was named the top forward in the RBC Cup tournament and in 30 playoff games, posted 93 points.
Vernon would go on to win three more national titles in 1999, 2009, and 2010 to stand among the greatest moments in the city’s hockey history.