Vernon Vipers tie up Cents
Morning Star Staff
Their playoff hopes have been reduced to an improbable mathematical equation, but the Vernon Vipers are giving it an honest effort as they head down the B.C. Hockey League stretch.
The Snakes skated to a 2-2 draw against the host Merritt Centennials on a rare Tuesday-nighter at Nicola Valley Arena.
Head coach Jason Williamson liked the hustle he saw on the postage-stamp ice surface and felt the Vipers held more of the play, despite being outshot 37-34. Vernon netminder Austin Smith supported the cause with a 35-save, first-star performance.
“Things happen in a hurry in that rink,” said Williamson, who praised his players for filling the void left by those that departed at the carding deadline.
“It’s just some players we’ve given more ice time to and they’ve run with it. Before they were maybe relying on other guys and now it’s them.
“We’re going to go until the end. It (playoffs)doesn’t look totally positive but our kids are still playing hard.”
Even if Vernon (15-22-1-7) wins its remaining 11 games outright, the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (21-19-2-4), occupiers of the fourth and final Interior Division playoff spot, would only need to win six of their remaining 10 to clinch.
The Vipers will host a pair of weekend tilts at Wesbild Centre, starting Saturday night against the West Kelowna Warriors (20-12-3-8). The first-overall Victoria Grizzlies (31-9-0-6) are in town for a 4 p.m. Sunday matinee.
Mason Blacklock (14th goal) led the Vipers with a goal and an assist to earn second star. Brendan Persley (3rd) had the other Vernon snipe.
Blacklock has 10 points (5-5-10) in eight games since joining the Viper den at the deadline. With Vernon down a goal at the intermission, he took a deft one-touch pass from Liam Board early in the second period and wheeled into Merritt’s zone to snap one by keeper Tyler Steel from the top of the circle.
“Blacky’s been great,” said Williamson. “Each and every game he’s been one of our better players.”
Persley deflected a Bryce Eviston point shot at 8:54 for the go-ahead goal.
“He’s just an absolute gamer,” said Williamson of Persley. “Every single time we throw him over the boards he gives us an honest effort.”
Sam Johnson (4th), on a first-period powerplay, and Brent Fletcher (4th), later in the second period, handled Merritt’s offence.
Williamson said neither team was giving up much in OT. Craig Martin had one of Vernon’s better scoring chances, but rang his shot off Steel’s head and out of play.
Merritt d-man Charlie Donlin earned third star. Steel, a Vernon native, made 32 stops.
SNAKE BITES: Tim Hortons is sponsoring an after-game skate with the Vipers following Sunday’s tilt with the Grizz. Anyone interested should bring skates and helmet...For the second year in a row, Yarmouth, N.S. will host the World Junior A Challenge, Nov. 4-10. It is the first time in the eight-year history of the event it will be held in the same city in back-to-back years, and the first time a city will host the tournament more than once.