Only 11 sleeps until Christmas. But first the Vernon Vipers must close out their pre-holiday B.C. Hockey League schedule with a pair of home games at Kal Tire Place.
The Vipers occupy the BCHL penthouse with 51 points and face the Merritt Centennials Friday night and the Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday night.
The Cents are sixth in the Interior Conference with 31 points, while the Smokies are fourth with 42 points. The Cents dispatched Trail 5-3 Wednesday night before 1,262 fans at Cominco Arena.
With head coach Mark Ferner in Arizona scouting until Tuesday, assistant Kevin Kraus assumes bench boss duties for the weekend. The former Viper captain realizes his players are anxious to get home and see family and friends.
“What human being wouldn’t be looking forward to going home at Christmas?” said Kraus, who has had excellent success as the interim head coach. “They know what’s at stake and it would be a shame for them to forgot about these two games and how important they are, being against teams in our division.”
Centre Jordan Sandhu draws back in tonight and will skate on the Snakes’ No. 1 line with Jimmy Lambert. D-man Jack Judson and F Tanner Wishnewski are on Injured Reserve.
The Vipers are without all-star centre Brett Stapley, who is with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Truro, N.S. Merritt defenceman Rylan Van Unen and Trail leading scorer Ross Armour are also with Canada West. The Smokies are also without high scoring Kale Haworth, a fifth-round Columbus Blue Jacket draft. Haworth is home in Red Deer upgrading his schooling. He is a UConn Huskies commit.
Armour tied the game with 6:31 left and converted 42 seconds into overtime, as Canada West shaded Canada East 4-3 in Wednesday night quarterfinal play. The westerners took on the Czech Republic in the second semifinal Thursday night.
Less than a minute after the puck dropped to start the extra period, Armour stripped East defenceman Aidan Girduckis at centre ice and broke in alone before roofing a shot over the glove of goaltender Jett Alexander to finish the comeback he started. Carter Turnbull and Jacob Bernard-Docker had the other goals for West, which improved to 7-1 all-time against East and advanced to the semifinals for the 10th time in 12 years.
Vernon goes into Friday’s game tied with Merritt in power play snipes with 30. The Vipers have 11 shorthanded goals and the Cents 10. Merritt has only allowed two shorties.
Meanwhile, ex-Viper and Vernon minor hockey product Cole Sanford recorded one assist as the U SPORTS All-Stars shut out Team Canada’s World Junior prospects 3-0 at the Meridian Centre Wednesday night in St. Catherines.
Alberta Golden Bears forward Luke Philp scored early in the first period on a power play goal just 2:44 in, snapping a wrist shot past Vancouver Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro (Windsor, OHL). It was a special goal for the second-year forward, who celebrated the tally with fellow Golden Bears teammates Jason Fram and Sanford, who picked up the assists.
“We had a little room (on the man advantage),” said Philp of the team’s quick start. “The puck hit me there and I tried to get it off quick and it went in. It was good plays by (Fram and Sanford) and it was nice to get the first one off early.”
The one-goal lead held up throughout the contest, before StFX’s Michael Clarke and Saskatchewan’s Logan McVeigh added a pair of empty-netters in the final 75 seconds. The teams met again Thursday night.
Former Merritt netminder Cole Kehler has signed a three-year entry level pro contract with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. After playing 43 games with the Centennials in the 2015-16 season, Kehler joined the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. In 22 games this season with the Hawks, the Altona, Man. native is sporting a 2.15 goals-against-average and .931 save-percentage.
The Vipers and Salmon Arm Silverbacks open a home and home series Friday, Dec. 29 at the Shaw Centre. The teams play the following night at Kal Tire Place.