Massimo Rizzo of the Penticton Vees can’t slow down Connor Marritt of the Vernon Vipers in B.C. Hockey League action Saturday night at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek/Morning Star)

Massimo Rizzo of the Penticton Vees can’t slow down Connor Marritt of the Vernon Vipers in B.C. Hockey League action Saturday night at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek/Morning Star)

Vipers snap Vees’ unbeaten run at 13

Vernon hands Penticton first shutout loss of the season, 4-0 at home Saturday

Vernon Vipers should make every home game against their arch-rivals Teddy Bear Toss night.

The Vipers blanked the Penticton Vees 4-0 in B.C. Hockey League action before 2,180 mostly stuffy-carrying fans at Kal Tire Place Saturday.

The victory gives Vernon a four-point cushion over the Vees atop the Interior Division, and stopped Penticton’s 13-game unbeaten streak, which included 12 straight wins before Saturday’s defeat.

“That’s our first time beating them, probably our biggest rival, and every time you’re playing for first place it’s always important to come out with a good start and I think we had that. It was just an all-round great team effort,” said Vipers forward Niko Karamanis, selected the game’s first star. He opened the scoring at 19:58 of the first period on a powerplay, neatly deflecting an Alex Swetlikoff shot over the shoulder of Vees goalie Adam Scheel. That brought a rain of stuffed animals onto the ice in support of Vernon radio station Kiss-FM’s Santa Toy Club charity.

It’s the second straight year Karamanis has scored the Teddy Bear Toss goal.

“I was made aware of that before the game,” chuckled Karamanis. “It’s always fun to score those goals and to have two is pretty special. “I think only my mom, maybe, has ever called me a teddy bear.”

The final three seconds of the opening frame were added to the start of the second period.

The Vipers made it 2-0 at 6:47 when captain Jagger Williamson cleanly won a face-off in the Vees zone back to defenceman Michael Young at the right point. Williamson immediately went to the slot, took a pass from Young and snapped a shot over Scheel’s blocker.

Sam Anzai made it 3-0 six minutes later, the beneficiary of great corner work by Brandon Whistle, who stole the puck from a Penticton defender and centred it to Anzai in the slot. The Los Angeles native’s quick wrist shot found the top right corner.

Jimmy Lambert made it 4-0 16 seconds later when he beat a defenceman and as he was being hauled to the ice, he got a weak shot away that Scheel missed with his pad and the puck slowly went into the net. That prompted Vees coach Fred Harbinson to make a coaching change, putting in Nolan Hildebrand to try and swing the momentum in his team’s favour.

“I wasn’t going to leave Adam in there,” said Harbinson. “It gave me an opportunity to play Hildy, who’s been playing well, too. I just thought they weren’t supporting Adam and I wasn’t going to leave him in after the month he’s had. The last goal had nothing to do with it. It was unfortunate but that’s the way things were going tonight. I talked to him the minute he came off the ice. It had nothing to do with him.”

There was no scoring in the third. The Vees’ best chance to end Ty Taylor’s shutout bid came from Taylor Ward on a bit of a breakaway, but Taylor stayed with Ward as he moved to his backhand and made a pad save.

“We weren’t very good tonight but give them credit. They obviously had a little different urgency to their game, probably after the way they played at home against Coquitlam Wednesday (3-2 OT loss) and I wasn’t sure how well they played last night, but obviously a tight one with Salmon Arm (3-1 road win) so we knew they were going to be coming out hard but I thought we had very little emotion,” said Harbinson.

“Three of our captains aren’t here tonight and I thought some of our guys didn’t step up. I thought Owen Sillinger and Taylor Ward played well but after that, maybe a handful of guys that played sporadically and a big chunk of guys who played very poorly. I thought our dee corps left both goalies hanging. It wasn’t indicative of who we are.”

Taylor made 20 saves for his third shutout of the season. Vernon outshot Penticton 38-20.

“It was a really good team effort. The boys battled hard, they blocked shots and cleared a lot of pucks and made my life a lot easier,” said Taylor, who’s on a bit of a roll.

Taylor gave up a goal at 8:41 of the first period Friday in Salmon Arm in the 3-1 Vipers’ win over the Silverbacks, his first game since returning from the World Junior A Hockey Challenge’s Canada West camp in Calgary. He’s gone 111 minutes and 19 seconds over the weekend without allowing a goal.

Both teams played without four regulars: the Vees are missing two players at the World Junior A Championship, defencemen Jonny Tychonick and Ryan O’Connell, while the Vipers are without their leading goal scorer, Brett Stapley, also away at the WJAC.

It’s the first time the Vees have been shutout this season. Their last loss was a 4-2 setback Nov. 4 at home to Powell River. Their unbeaten streak started with their next game, a 2-2 draw with the Vipers, then Penticton rattled off 12 straight wins before Saturday’s defeat.

Penticton still holds a 2-1-2 lead in the regular season series. The final regular season meeting between the two rivals is Saturday, Feb. 10, at the South Okanagan Events Centre.