They looked down and out sitting at 0-3 in preliminary play at the 1999 Royal Bank Cup in Yorkton, Sask.
The Vernon Vipers, however, rallied to win their final round-robin game and then ambushed the Charlottetown Abbies 9-3 in the final for the franchise’s fourth national Junior A hockey title in 10 years.
The Vipers, jumpstarted by the KGB line of Tyler Knight, Ryan Bayda and Lanny Gare, will enter the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame at an induction dinner July 22 at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
“That was a pretty special group,” said Viper owner Duncan Wray. “I remember we lost our first three games in the round-robin and everyone was asking, ‘What the heck was going on?’ We didn’t have the answers, but the team re-grouped and won their next three games.”
The Vipers won the league title at 52-6-2.
Troy Mick was the Vernon head coach and Joe Oliver his assistant. John Bradley, a towering Kamloops product who was obtained in a trade late that B.C. Junior Hockey League season, was named Top Defenceman at the RBC.
Kelowna’s Lennie Rampone was the Viper captain, while alternates were Kori Davison, Kelly Sickavish and Joel Bresciani.
Bayda was the lone player from that team to play regularly in the NHL after being drafted in the third round by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2000. Bayda got in 179 NHL games and is now playing in Germany.
“We were a skilled team that could play any style necessary.” said Rampone. “Just one of those special seasons that you will never forget.”
The Vipers dispatched the Chilliwack Chiefs in five games for the BCJHL title and then upended Dany Heatley and the Calgary Canucks 4-1 for the Western Doyle Cup.
At the Royal Bank Cup tournament, Vernon lost 4-2 to Bramalea Blues of Ontario, fell 6-5 to the Abbies and lost 3-1 to the Yorkton Terriers before finishing the round-robin by bouncing the Estevan Bruins 3-2.
The Vipers clipped the Blues 3-2 in the semifinals.
“When I look back it was such a closeknit bunch of guys,” said Mick. “Even when we were down 0-3 to start the RBC, they never quit. They really did love to play for each other and I think this is why even today we are a close group. We even did an oldtimers tourney in Vegas a few years ago which was hilarious as Lennie was my d-man and still did his dirty hipcheck routine down there, and then we also had a 10-year reunion in Vernon where most of the guys came.
“I will always remember carrying the RBC trophy into the Civic Arena from the bus we called the Pickle and seeing all of the unreal Vernon fans standing and cheering the whole time, and with me having grown up in Vernon, it was even more special that I could give them something back like an RBC title.”
Gare, Davison, Josh Reed and Spence Gilchrist were Vernon minor hockey products on the team. Goaltenders were Derek Gustafson and Chris King with Gustafson still holding the team record for wins with 39 that year.
Gustafson spent nine years in the minors, including two American League seasons with the Houston Aeros. He got in five NHL tilts with the Minnesota Wild.
Rampone, Knight, Scott Krahn and Kenny Magowan were all from Kelowna.
Gare (46 goals, 111 points), Knight (34 goals, 83 points) and Bayda (24 goals, 82) points were a dynamic line blessed with speed and creativity.
Gare is in his eighth year of pro hockey in Germany after four years in the minors, while Knight spent two years in the minors. Bayda, from Saskatoon, is in his sixth year of pro hockey in Germany.
Former Vernon Lakers’ d-man Murray Baron will also enter the shrine. Baron, a Prince George native, spent 988 games with five NHL teams after being chosen in the eighth round of the 1986 draft by the Flyers,
Retired NHLer Brendan Morrison (Penticton Panthers of the BCJHL) will also be inducted in the players section.
Brian Barrett (Merritt Centennials) and John Grisdale (commissioner of the BCHL) will go in as builders along with longtime Canucks’ trainer Pat O’Neil.