Four games in and head coach Mark Ferner likes how the Vernon Vipers are getting better everyday.
Of course anguish comes into play as a young, ultra-talented team finds its way in the B.C. Hockey League, and the Vipers felt major pain Friday night in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Coquitlam Express before 1,700 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Florida product Austin McIlmurray stripped Viper star defenceman Bo Pellah of the puck just inside the blueline and wired a shot past Jarrod Schamerhorn with 2:19 left in 4-on-4 OT.
“Mistakes happen,” said Odeen Tufto. “The loss isn’t on any one individual, it’s on the team. Obviously, we gotta work on our mistakes, but this is definitely a team loss. We’re sick of this feeling, losing at home, and we’ll be fired up tomorrow night.”
Tufto, a highly-rated Minnesota product who came to Viper camp known as Peter, is now going by his given first name in honour of his late grandfather by the same name.
“It’s disappointing,” added Tufto. “We played good and we battled back and we know we’re getting better, but we just haven’t been able to finish and it’s a process. We’re getting there and we’re going the best we can.”
Vernon outshot Coquitlam 46-29 and while Coquitlam’s Tygar Howat was sharp in his Express debut, Tufto wasn’t giving him too much credit.
“He was decent. He was a little shaky. We stressed shots to the net and the bounces didn’t go our way tonight. Some days, you just don’t get them, but hopefully they will come.”
Howat, 20, was somehow overlooked in the star selections. The Michigan product who recently moved to Rhode Island, has played for eight teams in five different leagues over the last three seasons, getting in 13 tilts with the BCHL Alberni Valley Express in the 2013-14 season. He was impressed with the Vipers.
“They move the puck around the zone well so I’m moving sround. Thankfully, I’ve been up here a few weeks running a lot of sprints so the lungs were holding up the whole game. I think our team did a great good job holding them off; we didn’t let them get too many back-door opportunities.”
Centre Jackson Cressey, the Express captain and lone member remaining from the team which swept Vernon in the Fred Page Cup finals two seasons ago, led Coquitlam with a pair of goals. He surprised Schamerhorn on a wraparound late in the first period and later buried a rebound in tight, giving Coquitlam a 3-2 lead early in the third.
Jimmy Lambert gave the Snakes a 1-0 lead at 5:35 of the opening 20 on a powerplay, converting a rebound after Riley Brandt’s shot from the left point.
Erik Udahl, with a floater from the ringette line which fooled Schamerhorn five-hole, equalized for the Express on a powerplay seven minutes later.
Cressey made it 2-1 Coquitlam late in the first which saw Vernon enjoy a solid edge in play. Coquitlam’s second shot on net came with 8:12 left in the opening period.
Viper captain Colton McCarthy levelled it at 2-2 on a deflection. Pellah and Tufto drew assists.
The Vipers ruled the third period with a 20-10 shot advantage but either were stoned by Howat, shot at his crest or fanned on shots.
Joe Sacco finally finished for Vernon, going top cheddar after a nice feed from behind the net by Hunter Zandee. Jagger Williamson, celebrating his 17th birthday, had the secondary assist.
Brandt and d-man Mitchell Oliver both had good looks in overtime with the Express converting on their first serious rush into the Viper zone. Ferner says Pellah’s turnover is simply part of hockey.
“I talked to him. He was in the right spot and stuff happens. I thought he played a real good game for us. I know he feels bad about himself, but we had enough chances to score a few more goals. Defensively, he was in a good spot, got stripped and the guy shot it and maybe it caught Schammy a little deep in the net.
“The process was better. We’re getting better as a group and that’s the most important thing. Yah, victories are important, but if we continue to grow and get better in certain areas, we’ll start winning some hockey games. We’ve got a good group here.”
Cressey was also high on Vernon.
“They’re fast. They’re a quick team. They really poured it on those last few minutes; we were just hanging on. They’re going to be a good team this year. The Interior’s a tough division, but I think they can be near the top.”
SNAKE BITES: Ex-Viper Hunter Bishop has signed with Krefeld Penguins of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany…Vernon summoned Cole Demers from the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets as a back-up G after Andrew Shortridge took a shot to the head in the morning skate.ernon’s Spencer Hewson scored an empty-netter in Nanaimo Clippers’ 4-2 win over Victoria Grizzlies.