Vernon Viper call-up Cole Sanford (middle) tries to jam a puck by netminder James D’Andrea (right) while being hounded by d-man Luke Bertolucci in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night at Wesbild Centre. Vernon won 5-3.
Snakes sneak past Smoke Eaters
By Graeme Corbett - Vernon Morning Star
Published: January 22, 2012 1:00 AM
It was a B.C. Hockey League game only a mother could love.
Fortunately for the Vernon Vipers, whose playoff hopes are creeping perilously close to thin-ice status, style points don’t count for much at this point.
The Snakes were desperate to scrounge two points from the cellar-dwelling Trail Smoke Eaters, and second star Adam Tambellini made sure they got them. After assisting on first star linemate Mike Zalewski’s opening two goals, the 17-year-old Port Moody product sniped the winner with a gorgeous bar-down wrister right off a faceoff with 91 seconds to play, helping the Vipers outlast the Smokies 5-3 Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
“We saved it till the last minute which isn’t always good, but we got it done which is a good thing,” said Tambellini, the son of Edmonton Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini, and younger brother of former Vancouver Canuck Jeff Tambellini.
“He (Zalewski) wanted to take the draw. He’s pretty good on the faceoff and he won it right back to me and I was lucky to get it by the d-man.”
With leading scorer Darren Nowick on the shelf with a shoulder injury, Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson liked how the rookie pivot clicked on a line with Zalewski and Aaron Hadley.
“He’s a special player and if you give him time and space he’s gonna make you pay. It was a good job by Zee (Zalewski) winning that draw. I think we’ve got a good line there.”
Other than that, there wasn’t much for the 1,600 fans (or the Vernon coaching staff) to get excited about as the 19-18-1-2 Vipers, who outshot Trail 40-17, continually allowed the 7-27-1-4 Smokies back in the game with turnovers and untimely penalties.
“Not a great start, not a great 40 (minutes), then in the third we don’t give them a lot,” said Williamson. “They get four shots on goal, two are from the other end of the ice, but we’re in a tie game with 1:30 to play. It’s leaving it up to chance and we can’t take our opponent lightly.”
Zalewski (21st goal) opened the scoring with a billiards-like circus shot midway through the first period, firing a dump-in off the end boards and banking it into the net off the back of netminder James D’Andrea’s leg.
Trail equalized at 14:46 when Vernon defenceman Marc Hetnik bobbled a puck at centre ice, allowing forward Brandon Long to go in alone on a breakaway. The Calgary product turned Vernon netminder Kirby Halcrow inside out, burying the puck low glove side for his third goal.
The Smokies’ Riley McDougall, a former teammate of injured Viper forward Ben Gamache on the AJHL Okotoks Oilers (he joined Trail from the AJHL Calgary Canucks on Jan. 6), assisted on the play.
“We stuck pretty well with Vernon, but we’ve still got some work to do,” said McDougall. “We just needed to bear down when they tied it up (in the third period).”
McDougall, who caught up with Gamache after the game, is loving the prime ice time he’s getting in Trail and is happy to be part of the rebuilding process.
“We’re playing for pride right now. We’re trying to become a better team and trying to develop,” he said.
Halcrow wasn’t exactly burdened with a heavy workload, but one of his 14 saves turned out to be a game changer. Shortly after he made a stellar second-effort stop on Trail’s Erik Cooper at the side of the net, Vernon went on the counterattack, with Tambellini dishing a slick pass down low to Zalewski (22nd), who beat D’Andrea (35 saves) blocker side.
A second Vernon giveaway, this time by defenceman Ryan Renz right in front of the Viper net, led to a gimme for Connor Teichko (7th) with six minutes to play in the second.
“I told our guys to be hard on pucks and those were two soft plays,” said Williamson of Trail’s goals. “They should learn their lesson from the season they’ve had, but that’s Junior hockey sometimes.”
Captain Patrick McGillis (7th) restored Vernon’s lead with a wrister from the slot, assisted by Colton Cyr and Sean Robertson on the powerplay midway through the third period. But with Renz serving a questionable charging penalty with two minutes to play, the Smoke Eaters went to work with the man advantage. Winning the draw, the visitors worked the puck back to Brent Baltus (7th), whose point blast redirected through traffic.
Said Trail head coach Bill Birks: “To tie it up with two minutes left was pretty big for this young group. We had a young guy in the faceoff dot and our goalie wasn’t ready and that’s the game. It’s frustrating, but it’s the game.
“Since Christmas we’ve played pretty good hockey. We were doing a lot of good things tonight and I don’t think the shot clock was indicative of the play by any means. It’s frustrating for these kids to work hard and not get rewarded for it.”
McGillis (third star) capped a two-goal night with an empty-netter from just over centre ice to put Trail away for good.
The Vipers visited the Westside Warriors (14-21-1-5) Saturday night at Royal LePage Place. They entertain the Warriors Friday at Wesbild.
SNAKE BITES: Viper forward Jedd Soleway missed Friday’s encounter serving the last of a two-game suspension he earned in Vernon’s 6-2 win over the Coquitlam Express last Saturday.