Black Press Sports
Last thing the Vernon Vipers were worried about going into Trail’s Cominco Arena Wednesday night was the Smoke Eaters’ 13th ranked powerplay.
Surprise. The Smokies went 5-for-11 with the man advantage, scoring three of them in the third period in a 6-3 win before 930 B.C. Hockey League fans.
“It wasn’t like they have the No. 1 powerplay in the league,” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner. “They just had good nights on the powerplay. They found that seam and made some sauce passes across the ice. We made them make the hardest passes and it was our inability to block the perfect shots.”
The Vipers, who lost a drama-jammed 5-4 double overtime tilt to the Penticton Vees before 1,750 fans Tuesday night at Kal Tire Place, are one point ahead of the Smokies for the fourth and final playoff berth in the Interior Division. Vernon hosts the Merritt Centennials tonight and entertain the Powell River Kings in a Sunday matinee to end 2015.
It was 3-3 after 40 minutes with forward Kyle Star – obtained in a recent trade with the Surrey Eagles for Kurt Black – getting the winner at 4:25 of the third. Viper winger Charlie Michalowski was off for hooking.
Kienan Scott supplied his 16th and 17th goals of the year for the Smokies (16-18), while Jake Kauppila, Connor Brown-Maliski and Nick Halloran (his 16th) completed the offence in front of Bailey MacBurnie. Scott’s first snipe came shorthanded, 6:33 into the opening period.
Joe Sacco (6th), Odeen Tufto (15th) and Jimmy Lambert (10th) answered for the Vipers (15-19-0-3) in front of Andrew Shortridge. Trail outshot Vernon 36-33.
The highly physical tilt featured more than 50 minutes in penalties, most coming in the third period when Riley Brandt of the Vipers and Evan MacEachern of the Smokies tangled in a brief fight. Brandt was assessed a major for a hit to the head seconds before the scrap. He is suspended for two games.
“There was a lot of different elements to the game tonight,” said Smoke Eater coach Nick Deschenes. “There was physicality and there was some adversity, and I think we responded really well. We have a pretty character group. We’re starting to dig in and not get pushed around. I like where we’re at right now, we’re not a team of super stars but we definitely play as a five-man unit when we’re out there and we get a lot done.”
Star’s goal came on the powerplay 4:25 into the third, when Mitch Stapley and Kale Howarth worked the puck to Star in the left circle and the Langley native sniped the top corner on Shortridge to give the Smokies a 4-3 lead.
Scott opened the scoring when Max Newton gained possession of the puck in his own end and lifted a pass to a streaking Scott who out-raced the Vernon defender and beat Shortridge with a deke.
Meanwhile, you never want Scott Conway in your neighbourhood come overtime in the BCHL.
The 20-year-old centre has been clutch and then some with games on the line this year. The Basingstoke, England product was at it again Tuesday night, feeding Chris Gerrie in double overtime as the Vees upended the Vipers.
Conway, who has more moves than Cirque du Soleil on the Vegas strip, went into the tilt with 10 game-winning snipes, including five in overtime. He and Gerrie moved into the Viper zone on a 2-on-1 with Gerrie beating Shortridge from the left side for his 10th of the season, 1:41 into double OT.
“He (Conway) creates a lot of offence out there so you kind of just have to go to the net and put your stick on the ice and he’ll find a way to get it to you,” said Gerrie, a 19-year-old Red Deer product who has two GWGs. “I was screaming at him. I haven’t scored in a while so I wanted it pretty bad.”
With just about everybody in the rink, including the West Kelowna Warriors’ coaching staff, expecting Conway to pocket the OT winner, he forced the extra sessions with a powerplay goal on a wrister from the ringette line with 2:24 remaining in regulation.
Conway hustled back and lifted Hunter Zandee’s stick on a breakaway with 6:18 left in the third period. Zandee went low on Anthony Brodeur on the ensuing penalty shot for his fifth goal of the year.
“We’re always close with Pen; we can’t seem to close it out,” said Viper leading scorer Tufto, an 18-year-old Minnesota product who just signed a scholarship with the NCAA Quinnipiac Bobcats in Hamden, Ct.
Visit vernonmorningstar.com for the full Vipers-Vees story.