Morning Star Staff
They got beat to a loose puck killing a penalty and failed to generate much on the powerplay Tuesday night at Kal Tire Place
Throw in four of five shifts where they were simply outworked and the Vernon Vipers were again not consistent enough, falling 4-1 to Merritt Centennials before 2,066 B.C. Hockey League fans.
Vernon swept a home and home series with the Cents in October and Merritt showed up losers in four of their last five games.
The Cents improved to 8-14-1, bypassing the Trail Smoke Eaters into fifth place. The Vipers dipped to 10-12-0-1, four points in front of Merritt and five points behind the West Kelowna Warriors. West Kelowna has three games in hand.
“We just can’t put it together for 60 minutes,” said Viper defenceman Mitchell Oliver. “The effort is definitely there at times, but not for the full 60. They just chipped pucks and were outworking us, nothing fancy. They are a team we should beat.”
Nick Jermain, on an early powerplay in the second period, put the Cents up with his 10th of the year. Gavin Gould and Michael Faulkner drew assists. Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge, returning after missing last weekend’s road trip with a hip flexor, was screened on the play.
Ryan Forbes posted his fourth snipe seven minutes later, shorthanded. Ryan Coughlan and Gould earned helpers as the Cents beat four Vipers in the corner for a loose puck.
The Vipers responded 44 seconds into the third period when Odeen Tufto notched his eighth. Liam Finlay fed Christian Cakebread down the sidewall and Cakebread sent a sweet backhander to Tufto in the slot.
The Vipers pulled Shortridge for a sixth attacker with just less than two minutes left to play. The Cents won a loose puck shortly after with Zac Bowles finding the empty net with 1:21 remaining. Bowles has 11 goals. Gould had the helper.
Jermain also hit the empty cage 54 seconds later with Colin Grannary and Ryan Coughlan assisting.
“We played a good third period,” said Viper assistant coach and former captain Kevin Kraus. “The power play just wasn’t working like it was on the road trip. We just couldn’t get it set up. We made some dumb decisions and I think we were trying to be too fancy instead of simplifying it.”
Kraus says the staff is trying to find some leaders who can serve as serious extensions of the coaches like he and good friend David Robinson did as captains.
“It’s not too late for that to happen,” said Kraus. “We’re still trying to find the identity of the hockey team.”
A lengthy Saturday morning bus ride to Wenatchee to face the expansion Wild will be a major test for the Vipers.
“This (trip) will hopefully help us come closer together as a team,” said Oliver. “We have to just keep working hard in practice and get through this.”
The speedy Wild, who play out of the gorgeous 4,300-seat Toyota Center, lead the Mainland Division at 13-5-2-1. The Wild are 6-1-1 at home.
Brendan Harris, 19, of Las Vegas, and Mike Coyne, 20, of Buffalo, both have a team-high 20 points. Joe Drabiun, 20, of Rochester, N.Y., has 11 goals and 19 points.
Wenatchee goalie Chase Perry, drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, sports a 2.33 and .902 save percentage.
SNAKE BITES: F Brett Stapley and D Callum Volpe were designated sitters versus Merritt. Kraus expects head coach Mark Ferner to dress a different lineup in Wenatchee…Easton Brodzinski scored twice and Scott Conway produced four assists as the Penticton Vees zapped the Smoke Eaters 7-1 Tuesday night in Trail. Penticton tops the BCHL table at 20-1. They have won 20 straight since falling to the Salmon Arm Silvertips opening night…Former Viper superstars Connor and Kellen Jones have been split it up for the first time in their hockey careers. Connor has zero points in five games with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, while Kellen has two goals and six points with the ECHL Missouri Mavericks….Next home game for the Vipers is next Wednesday vs the Cents…Wenatchee hosts the Prince George Kings Friday night…B.C. Ford Dealers are on board as the presenting sponsor of the 2015-16 Road to the Fred Page Cup.