Vernon Vipers
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Brendan Persley of the Vernon Vipers is pushed on top of Penticton goalie Chad Katunar as he smothers the puck in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night at Wesbild Centre. Penticton grounded Vernon 3-1.
Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

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Vees show up struggling Snakes

Hockey is fun when you’re winning, but for the Vernon Vipers, the game almost seems to have become a chore.

The Snakes had their B.C. Hockey League funk pushed to four straight games after a 3-1 loss to the Penticton Vees Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

“They feel the pressure as much as anybody,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “When things aren’t going your way the puck feels heavy.”

Vernon, last in the Interior Division at 10-14-0-7, came out with a solid start, but lost any momentum they had when the 21-8-0-3 Vees’ Travis Blanleil (4th goal) picked off Pearce Eviston’s pass at the blueline and scooted in on a shorthanded breakaway, beating Austin Smith five-hole at 8:12.

The Vipers responded later on the same powerplay with a barrage of shots on Chad Katunar, but the Penticton keeper sprawled his 6-foot-5 frame and somehow kept the puck out.

Vernon’s frustration began to boil over when Liam Board was assessed a marginal goaltender interference penalty midway through the first period. Adam Tambellini drew a extra misconduct for talking back to referee Matt Thurston.

A little later, Vernon’s Aaron Hadley earned a minor for mugging Cody Amantea in the corner, and picked another two for letting Thurston know what he thought about the call. The 1,500 fans gave Thurston a hearty round of boos as well.

Hadley’s line with Andrew Tegeler and Board was easily the Vipers’ best on the night. Tegeler, who de-committed from the NCAA UMass Minutemen a week ago, has added jump to the Vernon lineup in his three game.

“We had some good chances, we had some good cycles down low and some good offensive pressure but we just couldn’t find the net,” said the 20-year-old.

“We’re a skilled team, a hard-working team, but we haven’t been getting a good flow going. Once we get a few W’s under our belt we’ll get rolling and get back in that playoff spot.”

Regarding his decision to de-commit, Tegeler added: “We had a coaching change this fall and a lot of guys had their playing time change.

“I was fortunate to be young enough to come back and play Junior and find another home and be recruited by somebody.”

Eviston made up for his earlier gaffe by wheeling through the slot and outwaiting Katunar for his ninth goal midway through the second frame.

However, the Vees sealed the win five minutes later when d-man Sean Flanagan (4th) wired a beauty, post-and-in, for the winner on a rush. Wade Murphy (15th), taking a cross-ice feed from Sam Mellor, scored two minutes before the second intermission to provide some insurance.

“They capitalize on two rushes,” said Williamson. “For (Flanagan’s) goal, it was a good shot. Third goal, we get tired in the offensive zone, make a bad change and miss a guy on the backcheck. Those are the differences sometimes.”

Vernon turned up the intensity in the third period, but Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson liked how his squad handled the pressure. He added it was a good rebound game after Wednesday’s 2-1 home loss to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.

“We weren’t very happy with ourselves the other night losing at home to Salmon Arm. We didn’t get upset about it, we just talked about what we needed to change,” he said.

“They (Vernon) pushed back, and our guys bent a little bit but didn’t break.”

Penticton’s Jedd Soleway, a Viper until a week ago, has endured what the Snakes are going through. It makes him appreciate playing on a first-place team that much more.

“You play because you love winning hockey games,” said Soleway, a Vernon native. “No matter what team you’re on, you’re always challenging to win.”

Soleway, who committed to the NCAA Wisconsin Badgers, said Penticton’s ability to roll a four-line tsunami is what has them atop the Interior.

“That’s been our identity since I’ve been here. We can pretty much roll all four lines and everyone knows their job. You feel like you can just roll over teams because they get tired easily.

“Vernon had some energy in the third and we didn’t give them much.”

Soleway took in the Badgers’ 5-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville Thursday night at the Kohl Center in Madison and raced back to play Friday. The atmosphere in the 17,000 capacity rink helped make his decision.

“It’s an unreal place to be,” he said. “You get treated like you’re in the NHL.

“Great academics too. I didn’t even realize that before I came down. Apparently it’s ranked pretty high in the world.”

Katunar made 30 stops for his league-leading 17th win (he is tied with Chilliwack’s Mitch Gillam). Smith recorded 26 stops for Vernon.

Vernon visited the Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday at Cominco Arena.

The Vipers’ Brendan Persley looked like he pulled Vernon within a goal in the third period, however, he high-sticked the puck to himself before beating Katunar.

The 15-18-0-1 Smokies are the hottest team in the BCHL with four straight wins, despite having the league’s worst goal differential (-48). They iced the host West Kelowna Warriors 4-3 in overtime Friday at Royal LePage Place.

SNAKE BITES: Viper captain Brett Corkey was sandwiched by two Penticton players late in the second period and crumpled to the ice. He needed help off and was taken to hospital for observation. Williamson said he should be fine, but held him out of the lineup Saturday as a precaution.

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