Vernon Vipers
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Dane Gibson of the Cowichan Valley Capitals protects the puck from Logan Mick of the Vipers Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.
Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

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Vernon Vipers gain ground on SilverBacks

The Vernon Vipers aren’t quite ready to give up on their B.C. Hockey League post-season dream just yet.

With points in three straight games, the 17-23-1-8 Snakes have closed the gap on the sputtering Salmon Arm SilverBacks (21-23-2-4) to five points, with a game in hand. The ‘Backs, who occupy the fourth and final Interior Division playoff spot, have lost five straight and face a doozy of a schedule to close out the regular season.

After a crucial matchup with the Snakes Friday at Shaw Centre, the Gorillas end with five road games, including a three-game swing to the Coast/Vancouver Island.

The fifth-place Trail Smoke Eaters (22-27-0-2) have an even worse schedule, with four of their remaining five games against the first-place Penticton Vees (34-13-0-3).

With four of their remaining seven tilts on the road, the Vipers’ dance card is hardly ideal, but given their resiliency of late, there is belief in the dressing room that a playoff berth is achievable.

Saturday night’s 3-2 comeback win over the Cowichan Valley Capitals is proof of that. Trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes, the Snakes reeled off three unanswered goals, capped by Mason Blacklock’s overtime winner, to claim victory in front of 1,600 fans at Wesbild Centre.

“We’ve been able to take teams deep into the game and change the outcome,” said Viper forward Andrew Tegeler, who dished a gorgeous saucer pass to Blacklock for the third-period equalizer.

“Some of the boys stepped up in the locker room and told us to bear down. We had tons of chances and for some reason we started clicking in the third.”

Working behind the net in OT, Colton Sparrow found Blacklock lurking in the slot for the winner, his team-leading 17th goal, with just 36 seconds to go in the 4-on-4 frame.

The last-overall Caps (11-31-1-5) got off to a fortuitous road start, converting at the 20-second mark when Garrett Skrbich (10th) redirected a rebound off his skate past Danny Todosychuk.

That seemed to wake the Snakes, who carried the play for the remainder of the period, but were unable to convert on numerous odd-man rushes.

“Those opportunities aren’t just going to keep coming,” said Tegeler. “You’ve got to finish when you can. We started to bear down in the third and play as a team.”

Perhaps frustrated by their lack of finish, the Snakes ran into penalty trouble in the second period, which allowed Cowichan to seize the momentum. Jesse Neher (7th) earned the 2-0 goal at the 3:48 mark, beating Todosychuk (28 saves) shortside from in close just moments after the Vernon tender had denied captain Mikael Jung on a partial breakaway.

Said Caps’ interim head coach Aaron Plumb, who inherited the gig when Jim Ingram parted ways with the club: “We started getting our feet involved in the game (in the second period), started getting a little more physical and that creates turnovers and more chances for us.

“They really needed those two points so we knew they were going to come hard. We just didn’t have enough to hold them off.”

Viper rookie Mitch McAllister (2nd) started Vernon’s comeback early in the third period when a rebound hit him at the side of the net, and the puck bounced up and over netminder Connor LaCouvee.

LaCouvee made an all-world save on d-man Michael Statchuk in the third period, reaching cross-crease to make a paddle save on a rebound after TJ Dumonceaux’s point blast hit the crossbar.

“We’ve struggled with that (third period) all year,” said LaCouvee, a Qualicum Beach native who finished with 46 saves for third star. “We know what we need to do, we just can’t do it.”

While unhappy with the effort in the second period, Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson liked his team’s moxy.

“There is no quit in this hockey club,” he said. “They’ve got some confidence in being able to come from behind.

“They know the importance of the games and having to go and compete. They got on their heels a bit, but after that we did a good job of pushing the pace.”

SNAKE BITES: There is a fan bus going to Friday’s game in Salmon Arm. Tickets are $25 and include Panago Pizza, game ticket and bus fare. Bus departs Wesbild at 5:15 p.m. Call the Viper office at 250-542-6022 to book a seat.



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