Vernon Vipers
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Vernon Viper forward Colton Sparrow (left) wheels into the offensive zone past Merritt Centennial forwards Sam Johnson (middle) and Bennett Huber in B.C. Hockey League play Friday night at Nicola Valley Arena.
Ian Webster/Black Press

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Merritt Centennials oust Vernon Vipers in OT

Away from the ice, the Merritt Centennials are going through some major adversity. On it, they are playing lights-out hockey.

The Cents secured their fourth consecutive B.C. Hockey League win by outlasting the Vernon Vipers 4-3 in overtime Friday night at Nicola Valley Arena. The two players going through the most hardship – forward Sebastien Pare and netminder Tyler Steel, a Vernon native – helped seal the win.

Pare, who recently lost his mother, Tracy, due to illness, netted the OT winner in front of 585 fans, while Steel, whose father, Brad, is recovering from a heart attack he suffered on Feb. 8, anchored the defence with a 26-save outing.

“He showed some good character in being able to play under the circumstances,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson, of Steel.

Scoreless after one period, the Cents, who are second in the Interior Division at 29-13-2-3 and have already claimed a playoff spot, opened the scoring in the second frame on Sam Johnson’s fifth of the season at 3:58.

Vernon, last in the Interior at 16-23-1-8, replied on a crafty play by Liam Board behind Merritt’s net. Collecting a Bryce Eviston point shot off the end boards, Board caught Steel going the wrong way and tucked one past the Cents’ tender for his 10th goal.

Viper buzzsaw Mitch McAllister helped set up the play by rocking a Merritt defender on the forecheck.

Bennett Huber’s third of the year restored the Cents’ lead before the break, and Diego Cuglietta (3rd) beat netminder Austin Smith (32 saves, second star) 2:40 into the second period to put the hosts up 3-1.

Rookie forward Michael Roberts sparked a Vernon comeback midway through the second period as he came across the blueline and ripped a slapper past Steel, beating him low stick side.

Brendan Persley (4th) provided the equalizer less than a minute later, tipping captain Brett Corkey’s point blast.

Pare (15th) netted the winner on a goal-mouth scramble, banging home a rebound from in tight.

Williamson has liked his team’s energy in recent games.

“We got a point and showed some life,” he said. “Complete team effort for the most part. We’ve played everyone tough as of late.”

The Vipers hosted the last-overall Cowichan Valley Capitals (11-30-1-4) Saturday at Wesbild Centre. Although not technically eliminated from the playoffs, the Snakes’ chances are slim. They are seven points back of the fourth-place Salmon Arm SilverBacks, with two games in hand.

The 21-23-2-4 ‘Backs have dropped five straight games, including a 2-1 loss to the Interior-leading Penticton Vees Friday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.


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