The 2,300 fans at Kal Tire Place were likely well entertained Friday night.
The opposing coaches were not so easily impressed as they watched the Vernon Vipers sneak past the Prince George Spruce Kings 5-3 in an edgy, fast-paced B.C. Hockey League tilt.
Kings’ head coach Dave Dupas said his team played pond hockey most of the night, while Vernon bench boss Mark Ferner said his was just plain sloppy for the better part of two periods.
“We just came out flat and stood around to see what kind of game it was going to be instead of going out and initiating and try to set the tone,” said Ferner. “For two periods, it wasn’t a very good effort by us.”
Dupas, former coach of the North Okanagan Junior B Knights, added: “They were more structured than we were and created some offence. We were too loose.”
Nicholas Rasovic netted the winner 5:34 into the third period, tucking the rebound off a shot by linemate Colton McCarthy under netminder Jesse Jenks.
Rasovic, McCarthy and second star Riley Brandt were in the Spruce Kings’ faces all night, chirping and delivering hard hits while combining for four points.
“We started off really slow, but overall, we came through and that’s what good teams do,” said Brandt, a Trail native. “We came back in the third and ended up getting it done.”
McCarthy, a Salmon Arm product who started the year with the WHL Prince Albert Raiders, gave Vernon its first lead early in the second frame after the teams were deadlocked 1-1 after 20 minutes. The play started when Brandt rushed up ice with d-man Brandon Egli and threw the puck on net. Rasovic ended up on top of Jenks, leaving McCarthy with a chip shot for his fourth of the year.
The Kings, third in the Mainland Division at 18-16-0-4, got on the board first as Marco Ballarin (3rd goal) picked the top left corner on Danny Todosychuk after barreling up the right wing at 6:08.
Liam Coughlin (15th) responded just over a minute later for the 24-11-1-2 Snakes when he buried his own rebound on Jenks’ doorstep, on a powerplay, assisted by Liam Finlay and Luke Shiplo.
The intensity picked up as the first period went on, with Egli planting Prince George’s Cole McCaskill into the boards as he tried to gain the Viper blueline. After that, TJ Dumonceaux laid a solid check that sent Sprucies’ d-man Ryan Fritz hard into the boards. The Rochester, N.Y. product needed assistance to hobble off the ice with an apparent leg injury.
After McCarthy’s snipe, the Kings made it 2-2 when Michael Buonincontri (14th) tucked a rebound past Todosychuk after the Vernon tender had made a strong first save on an odd-man rush.
A shift earlier, Todosychuk had made a terrific cross-crease safe on Ballarin on a 2-on-1 with Jeremiah Luedtke. Todosychuk, who has battled injuries all year, appeared to tweak a muscle on the play, but gutted it out to finish with 24 stops.
“It shows he’s got a lot of character and that he’s battling and that everyone else can just suck it up and play,” said Brandt. “Danny came back after that first goal and ended up playing well for us. He did a really good job tonight.”
Midway through the second period, Dumonceaux (17th), named first star, capped a gorgeous three-way passing play with d-man Johnny Coughlin and Liam Coughlin to restore the Vipers’ lead heading into period three.
Prince George blueliner Victor Dombrovskiy (3rd) equalized for the visitors yet again by rifling a point shot off the post, and in off Todosychuk during an early third-period powerplay.
The Kings went 1-for-6 on the man advantage, while Vernon converted once on two attempts.
“It was a good boost but unfortunately we couldn’t follow up with the next goal,” said Dombrovskiy, one of the few veterans on a rookie-laden Kings’ blueline.
The Snakes stormed ahead on Rasovic’s goal, then sealed the win when Liam Finlay (15th) deftly redirected Anthony Latina’s centring shot past Jenks at 13:39.
Jenks looked solid in recording 34 saves.
While Dupas agreed the Kings matched Vernon’s physicality, he said they were unable to use it to their advantage.
“Maybe if you count all the hits, but it’s the battles that we won when we made those hits,” said Dupas. “Although we threw some hits and we were trying to stand in there, the times we came away with the puck was maybe 25 per cent of the time.
“If you’re going to lose all those battles, you’re not going to win hockey games.”
Vernon entertained the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (18-14-1-3) Saturday at Kal Tire Place, and will end a three-game weekend today (4 p.m.) in Surrey against the last-place Eagles (7-30-0-3).
SNAKE BITES: Ferner missed Saturday’s game to attend the funeral service for his brother, Darrell Ferner, 59, who lost a short battle with a rare form of cancer in late November. Assistant coaches Kevin Kraus and Eric Godard will man the bench in his absence. Ferner will rejoin the team today in Surrey…An estimated 200 Aussie fans made their way down from Silver Star to take in Friday’s game.