Vernon Viper head coach Mark Ferner shuffled his deck and came up with an average hand at best Wednesday night. Maybe a pair of eights.
He called a misdeal, reverted back to his ace in the hole after two periods, and looked like poker superstar Daniel Negreanu as the Vipers rang up three goals in a 5-1 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Vernon improved to 6-6-1 and one point back of the second-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks and West Kelowna Warriors in the B.C. Hockey League Interior Division.
The Vipers host the Merritt Centennials (5-7) tonight. NHL Hall of Famer Howie Meeker, in town for the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner Saturday night at the Village Green Hotel, will handle the ceremonial puck drop Friday.
“There was definitely some uncertainty with new line combos, but everyone was trying to do the little things and trying to get some chemistry going and when we went back to our original lines, everything started to click,” said Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge, named second star with 41 saves at Kal Tire Place.
“We started to get it deep, chip pucks out, get down there, grind it out, throw it on net and get some goals.”
Colton McCarthy gave Vernon a 1-0 lead late in the snoozer first period on a shot from 12 feet that fooled Smokie goaltender Bailey MacBurnie. Joe Sacco drew the assist on McCarthy’s sixth snipe of the season before 1,380 fans.
Sacco neatly tipped a Mitchell Oliver point shot with 7:07 left in the middle stanza to make it 2-0 Vipers. MacBirnie enjoyed a stellar period, making two big stops off Odeen Tufto and one on Zack Andrusiak.
Shortridge was sensational all night, but was especially sharp on a late 5-on-3 power play in the second when he robbed Kurt Black in tight and flashed leather to stone Max Newton and Connor Brown-Maloski,
Shortridge reeled off successive stops on John Laurito from gimme range eight minutes into the third period and then stretched wide to stop a howitzer from Evan Howarth from the left sidewall with 4:18 remaining.
The Vipers had a fabulous chance to go up 3-0 early in the third when Oliver moved into the slot facing an open net but Brown-Maloski came out out nowhere for a huge shot block.
Riley Brandt put the game away at 8:41 of the third when he picked up a loose puck near the left hash marks, cruised in alone and went top cheddar for his sixth of the year.
Just 14 seconds later, Liam Finlay buried a beauty backhander after some magical passing by Tufto and Steven Jandric. It was Finlay’s fifth goal of the campaign.
Just seconds after Finlay failed to convert in front of the Smoke Eater net, Laurito and Cooper Leitch connected on a sweet 2-on-1 with Leitch going upstairs on Shortridge’s doorstep. It was Leitch’s third goal of the season.
McCarthy battled hard to win a loose puck in the Smokie right corner and dished to a wide open Jimmy Lambert for a gorgeous one-timer with 2.7 seconds remaining. Lambert has four G-notes.
Finlay said the line juggling gave the Vipers some insight on how others play the game.
“He (Ferner) had to give it a try and I guess he felt it was right to go back and it was a good choice,” said Finlay. “It was kind of weird at the beginning but we came through pretty well. It gave some guys a chance to show what they’re made of and I think a lot of guys did well.”
Trail dipped to 4-7, last in the Interior Division.
“We had two wins last week and it was tough to see that effort,” said Smokie alternate captain Kurt Black. “We have to get together as a group and bring a consistent effort every game. I think we were making him (Shortridge) look good. We have to stop on pucks, drive to the net harder and pick up rebounds and get some traffic in front of him.”
Shortridge, an Eagle River, Alaska product, gave props to his teammates for his success. He’s now 5-3 with a 2.29 GAA.
“I felt the boys did a great job letting me see shots and push ‘em to the outside and making it a one-and-done kind of save where all I have to worry about is the shooter and they got everything else so they did a hell of a job taking the other options away.”
Finlay wasn’t surprised to see Shortridge’s net detective show.
“He’s unreal. He does these things in practice too so it’s no surprise. He’s a great goalie.”
The Cents come to Vernon for the first time this season, led by B.C. products Zak Bowles (8-8-16). Colin Grannary (6-9-15) and Gavin Gould (6-7-13). Rookie Brett Jewell of Vernon has three snipes.
See VIPERS on A22
See VIPERS“They’ll bring their usual blue-collar style and I know their coach (Joe Martin) gets them pretty riled up so it’ll be fun,” said Finlay, of the Cents.
SNAKE BITES: F Jagger Williamson (injured) and D Griffin James sat out for the Vipers…McCarthy was up the middle with Andrusiak and Sacco for 40 minutes, Vernon’s most effective new line on the night…D Dante Fabbro of the 10-1 Penticton Vees has committed to the Boston University Terriers for next season. Fabbro is rated eighth overall by International Scouting Services (ISS) for the 2016 NHL entry draft. He and Penticton teammate Tyson Jost – ranked 18th by ISS – won a gold medal with Team Canada in last summer’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in the Czech Republic.