Vernon Vipers
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Vernon Viper d-man Michael Statchuk battles in the corner with the Victoria Grizzlies' Mark McClellan in BCHL action Sunday at Bear Mountain Arena.
Sharon Tiffin/Black Press

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Vernon Vipers surge on Island

Anytime you have three teammates up for B.C. Hockey League’s Gongshow Player of the Week, it usually means good things are happening.

That was the case for the Vernon Vipers, as they collected four of six points, narrowly missing a three-game Vancouver Island road sweep after falling 1-0 to the Victoria Grizzlies in a Sunday matinee.

The 14-20-0-7 Snakes brushed back the Cowichan Valley Capitals 3-1 a night earlier in Duncan.

Newcomer Mason Blacklock received POW honours after turning in consecutive first-star efforts, starting with a four-point showing in Friday’s 6-4 win over the Nanaimo Clippers. The White Rock product followed that with a goal and an assist against the Caps.

“He’s only going to get better,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “The character is starting to shine through with that kid. He took a pretty good hit (from Victoria’s Brett Hartscamp) and was still able to bounce back and was pretty good after that.”

POW honourable mentions went to Andrew Tegeler (six points, second star selection), and netminder Austin Smith.

“We’re just trying to keep it simple,” said Blacklock, of his line of Tegeler and Dexter Dancs. “We’re three big, pretty fast guys which helps. I was given a good opportunity and I’m just trying to make the most of it. Things are going well.”

Smith, a Calgary product, backstopped Vernon in the win over Cowichan, and ended the weekend with a .971 save percentage, 1.01 goals-against average and a pair of second star recognitions.

“He was back to his old self,” said Williamson. “He made some great stops early (versus Caps) and gave us some life.”

Myles Fitzgerald, with his 22nd goal, was the lone player to find the scoresheet Sunday, beating Smith with a turn-around slapshot from the slot in the third period. The first-overall Grizz improved to 28-9-0-4.

“We were running on fumes but it was a good hockey game and our guys showed a lot of guts and determination,” said Williamson.

Colton Sparrow (5th goal) and Dexter Dancs (5th) rounded out the scoring against the last-place Capitals (9-25-1-3). Smith had 30 saves for his 10th win.

Jamie Waddington handled Cowichan’s attack as Connor LaCouvee (28 saves) took the loss.

Vernon (14-20-0-7) visits the Interior-leading Penticton Vees (28-11-0-3) for their lone weekend tilt Friday at the South Okanagan Events Centre. They trail the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (18-17-2-3) for the final Interior playoff spot by five points.

“We have two games against Salmon Arm (Feb. 2 and Feb. 22),” said Williamson. “If we win those two, it’s real tight. There’s 30 points still up for grabs and that’s what we have to focus on right now.”

In other BCHL Interior action Saturday night, Vernon’s Alex Gillies scored the equalizer and OT winner as the ‘Backs bounced the host Trail Smoke Eaters 4-3.

Tyler Steel, another Vernon native, netted his fourth shutout with a 26-save performance as the Merritt Centennials slammed the Coquitlam Express 5-0 at Nicola Valley Arena.

Regan Soquila led the Merritt offence with two goals and an assist, while Sean Maktaak chipped in with three helpers.

Merritt (22-12-1-2) and the West Kelowna Warriors (18-11-3-8) are tied for second in the Interior.

SNAKE BITES: Injured Viper forward Craig Martin is back skating with the team and is questionable for Penticton. If not, Williamson said he is likely to play the following weekend...The Grizz were without suspended players Kade Pilton, Keyler Bruce and ex-Viper Turner Lawson Sunday. The trio are serving suspensions for their part in a post-game brawl in a Jan. 12 tilt with the Chilliwack Chiefs.

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