You’d be forgiven if you were in the teddy bear line for the first minute of Saturday night’s BCHL game between the Vernon Vipers and the visiting Wenatchee Wild.
Normally, you wouldn’t run the risk of missing much as the teams found their legs over the first couple of shifts in a game.
As attendees were lining up to buy a stuffed toy to throw on the ice once the Vipers scored their first goal of the game, the Wild pocketed two goals in the first 53 seconds. The whiplash was severe enough that Vipers head coach Mark Ferner used his timeout to calm the bench.
“We talked about their starts,” said Vipers head coach Mark Ferner after the game. “We knew they were going to come hard. One of them, we were a bit unfortunate as it comes off of one of our skates, but you dig a hole against a team like that it’s going to be tough to come back.”
That initial pre-furry flurry was the difference as the Wild hung on to down the Vipers in an offensive see-saw 5-4.
“I’m not going to take away from the resiliency of the group, to fight back against a very good hockey team in Wenatchee to a point where you take the lead,” Ferner added. “But we need to do a better job on the wall getting pucks out. It’s stuff that we are going to continue to work on.”
It turned out the early timeout seemed to work as the pace settled soon after and the Vipers eventually found themselves with a two-man advantage.
Jagger Williamson was the Viper of the hour as he scored on the power play with just over two minutes left in the first, triggering the avalanche of stuffed animals.
The Vipers nearly tied it with 11:50 left in the second as Michael Young fired one off of the inside of the post.
Matt Kowalski would have had the goal of the year for the Vipers with 9:40 to go in the second after he was knocked on his keister trying to break through the defence but still managed a backhand that beat goalie Austin Park but hit the outside of the post.
The momentum swung back, though, as the Wild pressed and made it 3-1 as Chad Sasaki roofed a quick shot short side behind Vipers goalie Aidan Porter, with assists from Nathan Iannone and Matt Gosiewski. As is usually the case, though, the momentum swung back again as the Vipers ground out a rebound goal after a scramble. Coleton Bilodeau got the tap in with assists from Ben Helgeson and Brendan Kim.
The pressure built for the Vipers as they rode that energy to greater offensive zone time. That pressure turned into the tying goal with 44 seconds left in the second as Josh Latta made a sweet push around the defender and deked Park for the highlight-reel tally, with an assist from Jack Judson.
And yes, someone won the Super Save Frisbee toss by landing a disk in the just-big-enough hole in the dumpster for $550.
Perhaps inspired by that accuracy, the Vipers came out flying in the third and scored just 42 seconds in as Alex Swetlikoff roofed one in tight, with assists going to Kowalski and Connor Marritt.
But, like a replay from the first period, the Wild scored two goals in 22 seconds to take all of the air out of the arena once again.
Matt Dorsey scored with an assist from Sasaki and Cristophe Tellier scored with assists from Murphy Stratton and Sasaki.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t come away with at least a point, especially when you have the lead in the third period, but it’s always a work in progress,” Ferner said.
The Vipers struggled with the puck battles in tight and their defensive gaps most of the night.
“That’s something we talk about, from the dots to the board, play with heavy sticks. We need to win more of those battles. That’s the compete that you need, make sure you’re not getting your stick lifted,” Ferner noted. “The separation between our forwards and our defence was too big.”
Ferner added that the consistent effort has to be there for 60 minutes.
“Managing the puck, winning the races, winning our battles… it’s an everyday thing,” Ferner said.
The Wild’s Sasaki ended the night with two goals and two assists and the first star. Williamson was the second star with a huge effort, as he hit everything in sight.
“He’s been here for five years. He knows the expectations. He’s the glue in our room. He’s our leader, not only on the ice but off of it. You can’t speak enough about a guy like that,” Ferner said.
The Wild were tied for second place in the Interior Division after the win with 40 points, three behind Penticton. The Vipers drop to 11-9-6-3 and 31 points.
The Vipers next head to Prince George Dec. 5.