Vernon Vipers
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Geoff Crisfield (right) of the Vernon Vipers battles with Scott Davidson of the Trail Smoke Eaters in B.C. Hockey League action Thursday night at Wesbild Centre.
Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

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Vernon Vipers slip to Interior basement

The Vernon Vipers can’t be loving the view from where they’re standing right about now.

The Snakes slid into the B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Division basement after bowing 4-2 to the host West Kelowna Warriors Friday night at Royal LePage Place.

Vernon, now 10-12-0-7, entertained the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (15-11-0-4) Saturday night at Wesbild Centre. They trail the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (12-13-1-3) by one point, and the Trail Smoke Eaters (14-18-0-3) by two, in the Interior.

The Vipers’ free-fall has been expedited by the recent improvement in play by both Trail and Salmon Arm, who are enjoying three- and two-game win streaks respectively.

The Smokies shaded Vernon 2-1 in double overtime for the second time in a month Thursday night at Wesbild, and upended the Langley Rivermen 6-5 in OT a night later at Cominco Arena.

The SilverBacks, meanwhile, caged the Dawgs 3-2 Friday at the Sunwave Centre.

West Kelowna’s win Thursday leapfrogged them past the Merritt Centennials (14-10-1-1) into second in the Interior at 12-8-1-6.

“Pretty tight hockey game,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “1-0 game going into the third. We started to turn it on and we get rewarded by tying it up (on Aaron Hadley’s ninth of the season).”

Hadley, named third star, collected the rebound off d-man Michael Statchuk’s point shot to beat Tyler Biggs (28 saves) to make it a 1-1 game five minutes into the final frame.

However, Warriors’ captain Max French, returning from injury, set up a pair of goals – one by Braxton Bilous (4th goal), the other by Ambrose Firkus (6th) – to put his team in front for good.

With netminder Austin Smith (28 saves) pulled for the extra attacker, Adam Tambellini, with his team-leading 19th goal, brought Vernon to within one in the final minute, but the Warriors’ Matt Anholt (4th) provided an empty-netter to seal the win.

“Too little too late,” said Williamson.

“We just got to get that extra 10 per cent out of them. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing.”

Shawn Hochhausen (5th) had the Warriors’ other tally, converting on an odd-man rush with Brennan Clark and Anholt in the final minute of the opening period.

Meanwhile, Garrett McMullen and linemate Brent Baltus, who leads the league with 21 snipes, combined for the OT winner on a nifty 2-on-1, just 13 seconds into three-on-three play Thursday night.

Defenceman Braeden Pears, who is fifth in Smokie scoring with 3-15-18, was also in on the winner.

“We do a three-on-three drill in practice and that’s it right there,” said McMullen, a Rochester, N.Y. product. “It’s kind of funny how it worked out because that was the game-plan.”

Trail, who have given up a league-worst 146 goals against, thanks in part to a 9-2 spanking at home to the Vipers, used three Junior B call-ups due to a flu bug going around the dressing room.

“We really didn’t have much success here last year, but this year it seems to have turned around,” said McMullen, who set up Baltus for a shorthanded goal in the second period.

“This is one of the toughest buildings in the league. Vernon, at home, is always one you mark on your calendar as a big game so it’s really big for our team.”

Tambellini staked Vernon to a 1-0 lead midway through a sleepy first period. Statchuk, who made one impressive coast-to-coast rush before dishing to Pearce Eviston for a scoring chance seconds earlier, made the outlet pass to Tambellini.

Trail outshot Vernon 37-36, with Smith matching Lyndon Stanwood in the big-save department.

Dexter Dancs, an NHL-rated prospect the Vipers obtained from the Penticton Vees on Monday, played decent on a line with bruisers Braedan Russell and Liam Board.

“We didn’t execute the game-plan we wanted to,” said Dancs, a Vancouver product. “The guys were going hard but it didn’t turn in our favour.”

Williamson’s other new acquisition, 20-year-old Andrew Tegeler, who de-committed from the NCAA UMass Minutemen, made his debut against the Warriors on a unit with Hadley and Brendan Persley.

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