The Vernon Vipers had a chance to move closer to the third-place Trail Smoke Eaters in the B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Division over the weekend.
Instead, the gap has widened.
The Smokies completed a doubleheader sweep at home over the visiting Vipers with a 3-2 come-from-behind win Saturday in front of 2,308 fans at the Cominco Arena. Trail took the opener of the twinbill Friday, 5-2.
The Smoke Eaters (16-6-2-1) have 35 points, 10 more than the fourth-place Vipers (12-9-1-0), who are one point up on the fifth-place Wenatchee Wild (11-10-1-1).
The Vipers took a 2-1 lead into the third period Saturday but Trail’s Tyler Ghirardosi scored twice in 3:30 seconds, at 7:43 and 11:13, to give the home side the lead.
Cameron MacDonald opened the scoring for Vernon with his seventh of the year at 2:33 of the opening period. The Smoke Eaters tied the game at 18:05 on Philippe Lapointe’s eighth of the season. Lapointe set up both of Ghirardosi’s third-period goals.
Matt Kowalski, with his eighth, gave Vernon the lead with a last-minute goal in the middle frame.
Logan Terness made 34 saves to pick up the win in goal for Trail while James Porter Jr. made 26 stops in his Vipers debut. The 19-year-old Bonners Ferry, Idaho native was picked up by Vernon earlier in the week from the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
“James will come in and help in as a nice tandem with Reilly Herbst,” said Vernon head coach and general manager Jason McKee. “He’s a veteran player with a lot of experience.”
Porter was one of three goalies with the Rockets. He was a seventh-round Kelowna draft pick in the 2014 bantam draft and played 73 games for the Rockets, compiling a record of 30-22-7-2 with a 3.29 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.
“We feel there’s an opportunity in Vernon for James to get some games in,” said Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton on kelownarockets.com. “It’s critical right now as he hasn’t had any playing time here, the most important thing for James is to get him playing.”
The move gives the Vipers three goalies as No. 1 starter Max Palaga continues to recover from a lower body injury suffered Oct. 11 in a home game against the Merritt Centennials. McKee said there is no timetable for Palaga’s return, and the team “will have a decision to make” among the goalies when he is ready to rejoin the club.
Vernon is now 4-3-1-0 on its season-long 11-game road trip that has taken them to Powell River, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Victoria, Duncan, Surrey and Trail. The trip continues Wednesday with a swing up Highway 97 to Prince George and a date with the reigning champion Spruce Kings, a rematch of last season’s Fred Page Cup championship series, which the Spruce Kings swept.
Prince George has won eight straight games against the Vipers, counting regular season and playoffs.
Vernon concludes its marathon road trip Friday in Langley and Saturday in Coquitlam. The Vipers’ next home game is Friday, Nov. 22, against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on First Responders Night at Kal Tire Place.