Vernon Vipers
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Vernon Vipers' Dexter Dancs (right) slams into Victoria Grizzlies' David Mazurek as they struggle to pursue a loose puck during BC Hockey League action Sunday at Wesbild Centre.
Natalia Vignola/Morning Star

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Vernon Vipers tame No. 1 Grizz

Officially, the Vernon Vipers are trying to make the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.

Unofficially, everybody eligible to return is auditioning for a roster spot next season. Most of them appear serious about coming back, showing grit and desire in a 3-2 victory over the Victoria Grizzlies Sunday before 1,575 fans at Wesbild Centre.

Goalie Danny Todoyschuk, who was released and then carded again, definitely wants another year of home cooking. The Vernon product made 32 saves for first star as the Vipers improved to 16-23-1-7, 10 points back of the fourth-place SilverBacks, with one game in hand.

The Vipers have nine games left. The top four teams in the Interior Conference make the playoffs.

Todoyschuk didn’t have a shot until the last three minutes of the first period as the Vipers went up 3-0.

“Yah, I think so,” he said, when asked if auditions were taking place. “Obviously, there might be something in the offseason that we don’t know about; somebody might get moved, but for the most part, everybody wants to be here and everybody wants to be part of the team next year, especially with the RBC Cup.”

The Vipers also showed a high compete level in a 5-3 (empty-netter) loss Saturday night to the West Kelowna Warriors.

“I don’t think we’re mathematically out of it yet, but obviously, we’re in a pretty big hole,” said Todoyschuk (6-6). “At the same time, we have the mind-set that we have to come to win every night and we might as well try and win as many as we can and try and squeak in there. We have to remain positive. If we’re negative, there’s no point in coming to the rink.”

The Grizzlies, who grounded the SilverBacks 6-3 Saturday night, are tops overall in the league. They were without two-thirds of the dynamic Fitzgerald triplets – BCHL leading scorer Myles, with 26 goals and Gerry, with 23 goals – but still mustered enough offence to outshoot the Vipers 34-27.

The Vipers took advantage on special teams with a pair of first-period power play snipes. Call-up Dallas Calvin, a big and mobile 18-year-old winger from Trail, converted from Jason Bird and Brett Corkey at 11:09 while on a 5-on-3.

Craig Martin made it 2-0 Vipers two minutes later at even strength. Mitch McAllister drew the assist. It was Martin’s sixth goal in 28 games.

Colton Sparrow supplied the eventual winner, two minutes later, on a powerplay. Renz had the assist on Sparrow’s seventh.

Ex-Viper Turner Lawson, who was stymied by Todoyschuk on two other solid scoring chances, buried a low wrister from 12 feet midway through the second period, his sixth of the year. Stefan Nicholishen performed some great work down low before feeding Lawson.

Pearce Eviston, who was traded by the Vipers a month ago after he left the team, dangled and went low on a Victoria powerplay five minutes later. Zach Urban and DJ Jones pocketed helpers.

Calvin, who is second in KIJHL scoring with 31 goals and 73 points with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, looked very comfortable and was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.

Lawson played 50 games as a shut-down d-man for Vernon last year, and looks fine on right wing for Bill Bestwick’s aggressive Grizzlies.

“At the start of the year, I was still kind of trying to figure out the finer-tune things of forward, but I think I’m kind of getting the hang of it later in the season here so hopefully I’ll be really good for playoffs,” said the 19-year-old Kelowna product.

Lawson said the Grizzlies have even surprised themselves.

“Coming into the season, we didn’t think we were gonna do this either. The Fitzgerald triplets have had amazing seasons. They’ve stepped up really good offensively, and I think we have one of the best dee cores in the league. We have really good puck-moving and rushing defencemen and we have two really good goaltenders. They basically split games; it’s pretty competitive between them.”

As for the Vipers’ dismal season, Lawson said: “Yah, I’m really surprised actually. I thought it was going to be a really big year for them, especially hosting RBC next year, but they made some moves and hopefully that will set them up for next year.”

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