Jimmy Lambert nicely surprised the Vernon Vipers by postponing his college career by a year.
Everybody expects the 20-year-old Saskatoon streak to ring up big numbers in his third B.C. Hockey League season and he took just one game to earn Player of the the Week (POW) honours with five points in the Vipers’ 6-5 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Saturday night.
Lambert pocketed 2+3, including the winner with 7:21 to play, as Vernon took their home opener before 2,139 fans. Centre Brett Stapley, named second star, added 2+2 and newbie Tanner Wishnowski, a former Kelowna Rocket, produced 1+2 to give the speedy and creative trio a 12-point night.
The Silverbacks went in front 3-2 after 20 minutes, connecting twice on four powerplays.
“We were battling everything,” smiled Lambert. “We were battling ourselves, the refs and the other team tonight. We held on to it and didn’t let the emotions get too much of us. We hung on. Ty (Taylor) may have been struggling in net but he didn’t give up on us and we didn’t give up on him.”
The Vipers, who have 15 players with Junior A or better experience, only rate an honourable mention in the Canadian League’s pre-season top-20. The Penticton Vees, with 16 players on NCAA scholarships, are No. 1, while the Chilliwack Chiefs, 8-2 losers to the Prince George Spruce Kings, are ranked sixth.
Vernon visits the Merritt Centennials Friday night and meet the Wild Saturday night in Wenatchee. The Snakes don’t have another home game until Saturday, Oct. 7 against Penticton.
The Vipers, meanwhile, officially named highly popular Jagger Williamson captain on Monday.
The four-year veteran and Michigan Tech Huskies commit, is a consummate leader who is one game shy of 150 in the BCHL and is coming off a career-high 37-point season.
Williamson, a Lumby product who played Midget Rep in Vernon, is the first local captain of the team since Dave Robinson in 2010-2011.
Joining Williamson as alternates will be Lambert, Shane Kelly and Jesse Lansdell.
Williamson is high on the appointed leadership group while saying several other older players are leaders despite not having a letter.
“I would say I lead by example, but I will definitely be more vocal this year; if somebody’s having a bad shift, I’ll try and pick them up,” said Williamson. “I’ll compete every shift and show the young guys how the Vipers play. I’ll maintain my off-ice habits and make sure the Viper culture is respected as well.”
Viper assistant coach Kevin Kraus, who captained the Royal Bank championship team in the 2009-10 season, says the man known affectionately as ‘Jags’ is a coach’s dream.
“The important thing is that since he came here at 16, he’s been pretty much an extension of the coaching staff,” said Kraus. “He’s a very smart player and has done everything we’ve asked of him. He’s a top-notch kid on and off the ice.”
Williamson registered Vernon’s first goal of the season and his line with Lansdell and Finn Evans did most of the damage in a 5-1 victory Friday in Salmon Arm.
The Gorillas went ahead 5-4 early in the third period Saturday when Logan Mostat fooled Taylor with a wrister from the right flank.
Lambert equalized five minutes later when he beat Bo Didur on a shorthanded breakaway. D-man Shane Kelly and Jordan Sandhu drew assists. Lambert supplied the winner when he banged in a rebound after Wishnowski drove the net hard. Stapley earned the secondary helper.
“They (‘Backs) came out with a better effort tonight,” added Lambert. “You gotta give them credit. They played hard.”
Rookie d-man Josh Prokop made it 4-4 midway through the middle stanza with a shot from the right side which trickled in off the far post. Officials first waved off the goal despite the goal judge turning on the red light, but ruled it a good snipe after a brief discussion.
Defenceman Mitch Stapley, named third star with 1+2, put the Silverbacks in front 4-2 just 2:21 into the second period on a powerplay point shot. Hudson Schandor and Noah Wakeford picked up assists.
Marcus Mitchell, Riley Hayles and Akito Hirose counted first-period goals for Salmon Arm, while Wishnewski, on a nifty spin-around move, and Stapley countered for Vernon. Hirose deflected Hayles’ shot in mid air 39 seconds into a crosschecking minor on Williamson with 16 seconds left in the opening period.
“It was definitely a lot better effort than last night for sure,” said the Silverbacks’ Mitch Stapley, playing against his younger brother, Brett, for the second straight year. “I thought our lateral game was quite a bit better. We were half a step off from where we need to be, but we’re working in the right direction.”
First-year Salmon Arm head coach Scott Atkinson addressed his team for almost 20 minutes following the loss.
“He was saying he was happy with this group, that there is a lot of character in that dressing room and that we’re gonna do great things,” said Stapley.
Kelly and Justin Wilson engaged in a heavyweight scrap with eight seconds remaining near the Viper blueline. Kelly stunned Wilson with a heavy right hand to take the unanimous decision. Wilson shook off the punch and skated off the ice with class.
“That was a nice fight,” said Lambert. “I guess Wilson must have just been a little ticked off from what was going on. He actually picked the fight and Shane-O accepted, and you all saw what happened there…one punch.”
SNAKE BITES: Vernon outshot Salmon Arm 30-24. Didur was wearing jersey No. 20, a regular forward number since the team’s new black sweaters arrived in peculiar sizes…Former Viper Zack Andrusiak, of Armstrong, scored his third and fourth goals of the pre-season as the Seattle Thunderbirds lost 5-3 to the Kootenay Ice in WHL play Saturday…Vernon’s Ben King had a solid camp with the Swift Current Broncos. The towering 15-year-old was a first-round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam draft. He will play for the Okanagan Major Midget Rockets…The birthday club sees Williamson turn 19 next Monday and D Mike Ufberg hit 20 on Sept. 24. Viper head coach/director of player personnel Mark Ferner celebrated his 52nd last Tuesday.