Jimmy Lambert knocked Trail Smoke Eaters’ goalie Linden Marshall’s cage flying with a wicked shot from the left slot and minutes later struck iron with a long wrister. Those chances came in the second period.
Lambert finally delivered 2:11 into the third period when he turned a tiny hole into a huge win for the Vernon Vipers in Game 1 of the B.C. Hockey League Interior Division best-of-seven semifinal series.
Steven Jandric counted an empty-netter from the ringette line with three seconds remaining as the Snakes shut down the Smokies 2-0 before 2,136 fans Friday night at Kal Tire Place. Game 2 goes Saturday, 7 p.m., in Vernon.
Lambert, who had 19 snipes in the regular season, brought the house down as he scooted down the right wall, cut towards the net and fooled Marshall with a low wrister.
“I got a great pass from (d-man) Michael Ufberg up the middle of the ice and I think I caught their d-man (Ethan Martini) a little flat-footed and was able to kind of walk around him and the goalie was cheating a little bit over the glove side and I found a little hole low, blocker side, and it was lucky to go in,” said Lambert, a Saskatoon product.
The Smokies, coming off a strong 4-1 series win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, had some Grade A scoring chances.
Kale Haworth split the Vernon defence at the blueline and cruised in untouched, only to be stymied by league-leading goaltender Darion Hanson with 3:11 left in the opening 20.
Viper centre Brett Stapley was stoned by Marshall in the deep slot on an all-planet glove stop with 11.8 seconds to go in the same period after a gorgeous feed by Steven Jandric.
Trail captain Connor Brown-Maloski, who has played 215 BCHL games, rattled a shot off the crossbar behind Hanson, in tight, with 2:45 remaining in the middle stanza.
Smokie speedy winger Josh Laframboise had a couple of good looks as Marshall hit the bench in favour of a sixth attacker with 59 seconds to play.
The Vipers were healthy and anxious for real-time action after a 20-day first-round bye.
‘The series is going to be a war; we know we’re not going to sweep them, we know we’re going to lose a hockey game,” said Brown-Maloski, of Kamloops. “For us, in this dressing room, we have to take the positives. It was their first game in three weeks and we knew they were going to come out flying. I think we did a good job; we just couldn’t put the puck in the net. The game could have went either way. Both teams had good chances. We’re happy with our effort, but we’re just focused on tomorrow night and making sure we give it our best effort and see what happens.”
The Smokies were without injured/sick forwards Ryan Moon and Ryan Murphy. Vernon held a 35-26 shot advantage. Both teams went 0-for-3 on the powerplay.
“They’re a good team,” said Lambert. “They’re very skilled, fast and a quick transitioning team. Our mindset the whole time was to try and get their dee turned around and getting pucks and getting tired. I think we executed that pretty well and I guess it took its toll on them.”
Viper captain Riley Brandt, a Trail native facing his first cousin Spencer McLean and a few close friends, was sporting a ‘Ride As One’ t-shirt while cooling down outside the dressing room.
“We had a solid 60-minute game,” said Brandt. “Hanny stood on his head for us and other than that, we had a terrific defensive game and we were lucky to get that goal in the third period.”
The Vipers were definitely aware of the Smokies’ dangerous unit of Howarth, Laframboise and Luke Santerno.
“We tried to limit their speed and time and space and I think we did a really good job shutting that line down and they had nothing else,” said Brandt.
Former Viper Blaine Caton, a Vernon minor hockey product patrolling centre for Trail’s third line, believes the Smokies can be better in Game 2.
“They have one of the best goalies in the league so we need more shots, more traffic, make sure he can’t save it because if he sees it, he’s going to stop it. We have to get our second chances and get in there to the greasy areas. We were nowhere close to where we could be and were in the last series. I don’t think we’re down at all. We’ve just got to come out tomorrow night and we’ll be a different team for sure.”
There was a few punches and shoves exhchanged at the Trail bench at the second-period buzzer after Smokie d-man Carter Cochrane’s shoulder popped out and Viper d-man Shane Kelly rocked a few bodies all over the place.
Lambert, Hanson and Marshall were the three stars. Hanson has a scholarship to the Union Dutchmen, while Marshall has committed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute RPI) Engineers. Viper F Austin Adamson was chosen the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
Brown-Maloski says the Smokies weren’t about to hold any pity parties back at the Vernon Lodge.
“We know we’re a good team and I think we’re a great team when we believe that, and there’s no doubt in our minds even though we lost Game 1. We know it’s going to be a long series and it’s going to be tough on them too and they’re going to make it tough on us. It’s a process and you’re not going to win it in one game.”
Brown-Maloski says the Smokies try to keep things simple on the road, where “you gotta make your own energy.”
In other second-round series openers, d-man Gabe Bast supplied a deuce as the Penticton Vees grounded the Merritt Centennials 4-1 before 3,030 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre, the Chilliwack Chiefs iced the host Wenatchee Wild 3-1 in front of 3,150 fans at the Town Toyota Center and the visiting Powell River Kings clipped the Victoria Grizzlies 3-2 before 833 at the Q Centre.
Games 3 and 4 of the Vipers-Smokie series shift to Cominco Arena for Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively. A fifth game, if required, would go Thursday in Vernon.