Vernon Vipers
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Mitch McAllister of the Vernon Vipers dangles past the Trail defence with support from call-up Morgan Johnston in BCHL action Wednesday night at Wesbild Centre.
Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

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Vernon Viper talent placed on trade block

The Vernon Vipers will finish a sorry season without their two best players.

While the B.C. Hockey League has a backwards policy whereby teams cannot announce trades until today at 10 a.m., everybody close to the Vipers expected forwards Adam Tambellini and Aaron Hadley to be dealt before Thursday night’s carding deadline.

Tambellini, who has a scholarship with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux for next fall, was believed to be going to the Surrey Eagles. He was in civvies Wednesday night as the Vipers blew a 4-1 lead and lost 5-4 to the Trail Smoke Eaters before 1,500 fans at Wesbild Centre.

Rumours circulating around the rink Wednesday first had Tambellini (22-17-39) headed to the Chilliwack Chiefs.

Hadley, a Castlegar native who scored a beauty on a nifty move to the net, was also believed bound for a Coastal team, a reward for a superior three-year service to the Vipers. The Western Michigan Bronco-bound winger told team officials he would accept a trade to help better the Vipers for next year’s Royal Bank Cup campaign.

Viper captain Brett Corkey, who would be a prize catch for a contender, asked to finish his 20-year-old season in Vernon.

The Vipers, who had just one card remaining, will probably get a handful of young prospects in return for Tambellini and Hadley (12-8-20), who are first cousins.

Head coach/GM Jason Williamson also had the option of dealing disgruntled centre Pearce Eviston, who left the team last weekend after being benched.

Vernon’s Tanner Burns, who was leading the Junior B North Okanagan Knights with 23 goals and 34 points, signed with Chilliwack.

Meanwhile, emergency call-up Diego Bartlett scored the tying and winning goals as the Smokies stunned the Vipers in a must-win encounter.

The Smokies, who arrived late due to poor road conditions, forcing a 15-minute delay to the opening face-off, reeled off four unanswered third-period goals to move four points ahead of the last-place Vipers in the Interior Division, at 17-22-0-1. Vernon dipped to 12-18-0-7 with three games in hand on Trail.

The Smokies played without their top two snipers – Brett Baltus and Garrett McMullen – both injured.

“The wheels just fell off,” sighed Williamson, who met behind closed doors with some players post-game.

“I don’t have any explanation or excuses. A couple of turnovers in our own end by some veteran d-men. They feel the pressure of this town and I know they care. Our young guys really stepped up in the first period so they know they can do it.”

TJ Dumonceaux pulled the Gordie Howe hat trick for the Vipers, scoring two gorgeous goals, drawing an assist on Liam Board’s rebound goal and fighting d-man Braden Pears after Pears flipped him like a pretzel with a bizarre hit in Trail territory. Riley McDougall responded on a powerplay goal, with 57 seconds left in the first period, for the Smokies.

The Smokies, who are the league’s worst road team, went into comeback mode 1:38 into the third period when Viper d-man Geoff Crisfield giftwrapped a backhand feed to ex-Prince Albert Raider Jesse Knowler just feet away from goalie Danny Todosychuk. Knowler clicked again 20 seconds later on a broken play as the fragile Snakes blew defensive assignments.

Bartlett, a Castlegar product who plays Junior B for his hometown Rebels, levelled the score by going roof daddy on a rebound shot from the left side. He buried his second BCHL snipe by going top shelf again, 74 seconds into a tripping penalty by Crisfield in the neutral zone.

“They (goals) felt great,” smiled Bartlett, an 18-year-old in his third KIJHL season (20 goals and 37 points this year). “I’ve got a lot of buddies on the other team over there and it feels kind of nice. It was a good night for sure.”

Fifth-year d-man Bennett Hambrook, who bear-hugged Vernon’s Ryan Renz in a tussle at the final buzzer, knows Bartlett has moxy.

“It was about 45 minutes of him working hard and grinding each shift and he follows it off with a little bit of skill at the end. I’ve known Diego since he was 13 and that’s the kind of kid he’s always been. Willing to go to the hard areas, willing to go where the goals need to be scored.

“We’re sure thankful we called him up tonight.”

Hambrook, a former Viper, said the Smokies had heard all the trade rumours, and knew Vernon has had a trying season.

“I know things have been rough here,” said the Kimberley product. “It’s a great organization, I know that first-hand. They’re in the process of re-building, they’ve got a big year next year so that’s part of the game and I know their older guys are aware of that.”

The ever-improving Michael Roberts, who centered the Vipers’ third line with Dumonceaux and Logan Mick, figured the Snakes simply lost their confidence.

“We just got down on ourselves when we shouldn’t have,” said Roberts. “We still had the lead and when they got a few there, I think we panicked and they took advantage of that. It’s a crappy feeling because it’s two points we should have had and it’s just going to be harder to climb the standings now.”

Said Corkey: “It’s obviously very disappointing. We felt like we had good control of that game going into the third and we let it slip away. Whether it be kind of not mentally prepared or we just weren’t ready to go that period, I don’t know.”

The Smokies, who outshot the Vipers 20-10 in the third, held a 42-33 final shots advantage. Adam Todd, a former Saskatoon Blade, recorded the win.

There were four fights with Knights call-up Morgan Johnston winning a decision over Braedan Jones after hammering Jones into the end boards with nine minutes to play. Mat Lambert was also summoned from the Knights, playing alongside Johnston and Mitch McAllister.

Logan Mick also scrapped with Jones, while Colton Sparrow of the Vipers took on Austin Adduono in the game’s first tilt, moments after Adduono ran Roberts into the side wall.

Vernon entertains the Powell River Kings (15-17-2-4) Saturday night.

Meanwhile, in the other BCHL Wednesday nighter, the host Surrey Eagles got a pair of goals from former West Kelowna Warrior Brett Mulcahy to brush back the Coquitlam Express 6-2 at South Surrey Arena.

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