Pat McGillis was probably starting to wonder if he had crossed the hockey gods in some way.
Despite earning a regular shift and getting plenty of opportunities, the second-year Vernon Viper forward had gone nine B.C. Hockey League games without scoring a goal.
The 19-year-old Calgary product’s resolve paid off Saturday night, as he collected first star and a pair of goals, including the winner, helping the Snakes sweep their weekend home-and-home series against the Westside Warriors with a 6-4 win before 1,766 fans at Wesbild Centre.
“I just felt like I was snake-bitten, I was getting the chances but the pucks just weren’t going in,” said McGillis, a Notre Dame Hounds grad.
Reunited with Vernon’s leading scorer Dylan Walchuk (3A), McGillis was the beneficiary of a pair of gorgeous setups, the first a saucer pass for a shorthanded tally with 33 seconds left in the second period.
Regarding the winner at 12:48 of the third period, McGillis added: “I knew it was coming out front and I was just hoping it would hit my stick and it did. Wally set me up with two nice ones and I can’t complain about those.”
The Warriors (5-6-1) handed Vernon (7-4-1-2) an early opportunity as defenceman Peter MacIntosh ran over Darren Nowick, earning a hit from behind and an ejection just 46 seconds into the game.
The Snakes went right to work on the powerplay, controlling possession in the Warriors’ zone for a full minute before Adam Thompson (1+2) wristed a shot through traffic, beating netminder Kevin Boyle from the left point at 1:58.
Warriors’ head coach Darren Yopyk was left shaking his head after the MacIntosh penalty.
“I’ve only been in the league for one year now, and all five games we’ve been in this building we’ve got a penalty in the first two-and-a-half minutes. I don’t say that very often, but I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
“We made some big mistakes and it cost us. We’re a young group and we have a lot of young guys, as does Vernon, but the two teams worked pretty hard and they got one more bounce than we did.”
Brayden Sherbinin (3rd goal), with the first of his two on the night, converted a sweet give-and-go with Tyler Krause to pull the Warriors even at 17:44 of the first.
“It was a nice feed from Krause there, and I just got it at the net and shot it,” said third star Sherbinin, a Kelowna native. “We played a lot better than (Friday) night, we worked a lot harder and just didn’t get the bounces.”
Vernon snatched the lead back a minute later as Bryce Kakoske’s fifth goal, a dump-in from centre ice appeared to take a slight deflection off a Warrior defender, handcuffing Boyle (24 saves).
Kakoske (6th), who earned second star, kept the Vipers rolling a minute into the second period as he wheeled to the faceoff dot and unleashed a wicked riser, beating Boyle high blocker side.
The Vernon native is taking his role as a team leader seriously, and Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner has rewarded him with a larger job description.
“In five years in this league, I’ve never been on the penalty kill, but it’s been nice so far,” smiled Kakoske, who came into training camp 20 pounds lighter. “It’s been nice to see all that hard work in the summer has come around.”
After a solid outing Friday night, Ferner didn’t hesitate to keep his 20-year-old line of Kakoske, David Robinson and Kyle Murphy intact.
“We decided to put the old grizzled line together… there’s a reason they wear grey in practice – they’re probably the oldest line in the B.C. Hockey League,” smiled Ferner. “They were very good (Friday) night and we weren’t going to take that away from those guys.”
With Vernon leading 4-2 after 40 minutes, the Warriors clawed back into the game with third-period goals from Alex Grieve (5th, powerplay) and Quinn Gould (2nd) to tie it.
Vernon responded on the very next shift with McGillis’s winner. Mike Zalewski, taking a stretch pass from Murphy, went in alone for a breakaway goal to add some insurance.
Said Ferner: “I’m proud of our guys. They came back and tied it and we just stuck to our systems and our game-plan and came out with a victory.
“That’s the key. It speaks volumes of the character of this group. It’s how you respond when bad things happen.”
Netminder Blake Voth recorded 20 saves for his seventh win.
It was a much-needed home win for the Vipers, as they improved to 2-2-1-1 at Wesbild. They are 5-2-0-1 on the road.
Vernon will pit their third-ranked defence (2.60 goals against average) against the host Trail Smoke Eaters (8-5-0-1) Friday night at Cominco Arena. They entertain the Smokies Saturday at Wesbild.
SNAKE BITES: Viper grad Sahir Gill has earned Hockey East’s Rookie of the Week Award with the Boston University Terriers. Playing in BU’s Icebreaker Tournament, the Terrace product recorded five points and was a plus-five, setting up both game-winning goals.