For the opening 20 minutes, the Merritt Centennials hardly resembled a team which hurried to get ready for the Vernon Vipers Friday night at Kal Tire.
The Cents, whose bus broke down just outside of Kamloops, didn’t arrive at Kal Tire Place until 7:15. The B.C. Hockey League game started at 7:57 and the Cents went ahead 98 seconds after the national anthem.
They made it 2-0 late in the period but the Vipers pushed back hard for a 4-2 victory before 1,622 fans.
“We just tried to keep mentally focused and keep our heads in the right spot and kind of worry about the game,” said Viper captain Jagger Williamson, on the long wait in the dressing room. “They had a greasy one at the beginning, but we kept fighting and the coaches were all encouraging us to stick with the process and it’s going to come and it eventually did. Give credit to all the boys; they worked worked super hard.
“They came out good. Especially with no warmup. They got right off the bus and got dressed in 10 minutes. It was pretty impressive.”
The Vipers hosted the Trail Smoke Eaters Saturdaynight before taking the 10-day holiday break.
“One more big effort from everyone and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for,” said Williamson. “Then we’re on a well deserved Christmas break. I think, the pace we’re going, we just have to keep getting better everyday. Practice is the time to get better; we gotta be sharp in practice and throughout the whole year We can’t take days off.”
Henry Cleghorn jumpstarted the Merritt offence by burying a loose puck right on goalie Ty Taylor’s doorstep. Vernon defenceman Mitch Andres mishandled the puck trying to carry it up past the net. Cleghorn has 15 snipes on the season. Chase Bell and Mathieu Gosselin earned helpers.
D-man Colten Gerlib upped the Cents’ lead on a powerplay, converting a high wrister through a screen over Taylor’s left shoulder. Gerlib’s second of the season came with 31 seconds remaining in Jimmy Lambert’s slashing minor. Bell and Jackson Munro pocketed assists.
Earlier in the period, Gosselin struck the post on a breakaway after the Vipers whiffed on a shot after applying heavy pressure for 45 seconds.
The Vipers outshot the Cents 18-6 in the middle stanza and pulled within a goal at 16:07 when blueliner Michael Young beat Jake Berger with a point shot, That came with 14 seconds left in Jack Vincent’s crosschecking penalty. Josh Prokop produced the assist.
Vernon pulled even at 17:59 when captain Jagger Williamson popped in a loose puck in the deep slot after a gorgeous toe-drag by Josh Prokop on the left flank. Sam Anzai netted the winner at 9:55 of the third period with a wrister from the ringette line after he called for a back pass from Keyvan Mokhtari Williamson, who took first star with 2+1, completed the offence three minutes later with his 13th on a rebound after Prokop shot from the left corner.
The line of Williamson, Prokop and Fortis Energy Player of the Game Jesse Lansdell garnered seven points.
“It was a good start for us, getting that goal a couple of shifts in was really important, ” said Cents’ captain Tyrell Buckley, who talked to a St. Norbert Green Knights’ recruiter after the tilt. “Obviously we just got off the bus and hopped out there for warmup in 15 minutes. It was a tough start, but we played wel, We just got try keep it going through the game.
“Our identity in Merritt is a hard working team, hard to play against and one that’s gonna come to the rink every night and compete and it’s gonna be tough to beat us. We have to keep working on playing 60 minutes. At times, we’re right there; we’re playing really well for good stretches of the game and then we let up a bit and that’s when they capitalize on us.”
On the Vipers, Buckley said: “They’re a good team. They’re a fast team with a lot of experience, older guys. They’re definitely building for this year. It’s a good test for us.”
Vernon remained first overall in the 17-team league with 53 points. The Cents dropped to 14-15-2-1 and sixth in the Interior Conference. They entertain the Nanaimo Clippers in a Sunday matinee.
RJ Murphy scored at 4:59 of overtime as the West Kelowna Warriors upended the Penticton Vees 3-2 before 962 fans at Royal LePage Place.
The Vipers had assistant Kevin Kraus serving as head coach with Mark Ferner in Phoenix scouting a Midget tournament with Kevin Pedersen and Jerred Smithson also working the bench.
SNAKE BITES: Vernon’s Cole Sanford garnered 2+1 as the Canadian University All-Stars shaded the Team Canada Junior Prospects 4-3 in exhibition play Thursday night at the Meridian Centre in St. Catherines…The host Princeton Posse dispatched the North Okanagan Knights 5-2 in KIJHL play Friday night. Ben Jossinet and Alec McLeod scored for the Knights, whose game star was goalie Zach Willms (42 saves)…Ex-Viper Ryan Brushett bagged his 12th and 13th goals as the Surret Eagles spanked the visiting Powell River Kings 8-4 before 1,281 fans…Lucas Sowder had two snipes as Wenatchee Wild shut out Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-0.