For much of the first period Wednesday night, the Vernon Vipers looked like they learned how to play defence by correspondence.
The West Kelowna Warriors threw the Hockey 101 book at the Vipers during that time frame and grabbed a 3-1 lead before holding on for a 4-3 overtime B.C. Hockey League win before 1,380 fans at Kal Tire Place.
It was pretty much river hockey for the Vipers, who appeared weary after playing five games in eight. The Warriors, dressing a depleted lineup, got gutsy showings from their key veterans and some decent shifts from three affiliates to snap a five-game losing skid.
The victory was sweeter than Purdy’s chocolate for West Kelowna goalie Cole Demers, released in late November by the Vipers to make room for veteran G Darion Hanson.
“I started my Junior career here and I’m really grateful for getting my foot in the door in the BCHL so I have nothing but good things to say about the Vipers, but if I said I didn’t circle this one on the calendar, I’d be lying,” smiled Demers, 7-12 with a 3,08 GAA and .910 save percentage. “It definitely felt a lot better getting the win this time. We have one more against these guys and who knows what the playoffs will bring.”
Parm Dhaliwal converted from five feet in front of Hanson 48 seconds into four-on-four overtime. Dhaliwal won the draw to Braiden Epp, who fluttered a shot at Hanson. Chase Dubois chipped the rebound to Dhaliwal and he buried his fourth of the season.
The Warriors, who led 3-1 at the midway point of the first period, improved to 23-22-2-0, alone in fourth place in the Interior Division. The second-place Vipers dipped to 26-15-5-4, seven points back of the Penticton Vees, 4-2 winners over the host Merritt Centennials.
It was a nice bounce-back performance by Demers, who was chased after giving up four goals in 7-2 losses to the Powell River Kings and Victoria Grizzlies last weekend. The Warriors lost 3-2 in OT to the Chilliwack Chiefs Sunday.
“We had a rough Island trip and we wanted to get back on the win column and this win really spoke about the character we have on this team,” said Demers. “We’re a tight group so if someone’s missing, someone else steps up.”
Connor Sodergren supplied his 22nd snipe of the season 4:22 after the national anthem. Epp, named first star, and all-star d-man Jake Harrison drew helpers.
The Vipers equalized 49 seconds later with Steven Jandric going top cheddar from a near impossible angle on Demers, who had stoned Jandric on a clear deke seconds earlier. Jimmy Lambert and blueliner Shane Kelly earned assists.
Epp, with his 11th, on a strong push down the right sidewall and untouched drive to the net, and Quin Foreman, with his 22nd on a floater which glanced in off Hanson’s glove, moved the Warriors in front three minutes apart.
Vernon head coach Mark Ferner called a timeout after the Warriors connected on three of their first seven shots, and the move settled the Snakes down.
Austin Adamson went top shelf with 5:15 left in the first period after Ryan Brushett stripped the puck off West Kelowna d-man Michael Ryan just a few feet from Demers’ doorstep.
Niko Karamanis registered his 17th goal of the year on a quick shot from the right hashmarks to level things at 3:13 of the middle stanza. Brushett and Luke Gingras garnered assists on the textbook three-on-two.
Hanson, named BCHL player of the week, stoned Foreman with just under four minutes remaining in the second period as Foreman and Dubois worked a 2-on-1. Hanson did likewise to Stephen Kleysen late in the third.
Demers recorded 35 saves. He stymied Jesse Lansdell in the mid slot with 7:50 left in the third after a nifty feed by Jagger Williamson.
The Warriors were without six regulars due to injuries and suspensions so summoned Tyler Chavez-Leech, Jon Van Der Molen and Connor Horning from Junior B and Midget.
“I would say it wasn’t our best effort, especially for my line,” said Viper alaternate captain Jagger Williamson. “It felt like every time we got out there in the first, it was in the back of our net. The positive thing is we kept grinding and tied it up and got a point.”
West Kelowna was without 20-year-old captain Nicholas Rutigliano and four others due to injury. Rookie F Chase Stevenson sat out his fourth and final game of a blow-to-the-head suspension.
“We all knew and of course Mark addressed it before that we can’t take ‘em lightly they don’t have many of their guys in,” said Williamson, who skated on a line with Karamanis and Lansdell. At times, we played good and at times, we didn’t, and it cost us.”
Epp, a four-year BCHLer out of Prince George, said the Warriors weren’t looking to be fancy on the road.
“Just keep it simple, get pucks in deep, get pucks to net and cause havoc down low because their d-men can’t really handle a bunch of speed when we come at them with full speed,” he said.
On Demers, who turns 18 next month, Epp said: “That’s big for him coming into your old barn and getting a W so that was great for him. He’s been playing really well for a young guy; he’s going to be really good in the future.”
Karamanis said the Snakes will quickly move forward as they host the ever-improving Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday night.
“We just need to be better from top to bottom,” said Karamanis. “Not the start we were looking for, and as a team, we kind of let a point slip away. We gotta take every game, especially heading into the playoffs on an upward trend. We’ll just get back at it in practice tomorrow and get ready for Trail.”
SNAKE BITES: Epp played his 201st career BCHL game…The Vipers scratched D Michael Ufberg (ill)…Karamanis was the Fortis Energy Player of the Game…Adamson turns 21 on Monday, while Lambert celebrates his 20th birthday Thursday, Feb. 9…Former Viper D Mitchell Oliver has 8-12-20 in 34 games with the AJHL Bonnyville Pontiacs, who are fourth, at 28-15-4, in the eight-team North Division.