Morning Star Staff
The Penticton Vees stopped the Vernon Vipers 4-2 in B.C. Hockey League before 1,687 fans Friday night at Kal Tire Place.
Taylor Ward and Grant Cruikshank each scored twice as the defending Interior Conference champion Vees improved to 15-2.
Penticton, who went 1-for-5 on the powerplay, led 2-0 after 20 minutes and 3-0 eight minutes into the second period. Vernon was 1-for-1 with the man advantage.
Defenceman Carter Stephenson and Jimmy Lambert counted Viper snipes 10 seconds apart late in the second period to make things interesting.
Cruikshank wired a wrister from near the penalty box into an empty net for his 12th of the season with 55 seconds left in the third.
Ward, a Kelowna product, fooled Viper goalie Ty Taylor with a change-up from the right side just 72 seconds after the national anthem. Ward converted on a heavy blast from the the ringette line on a power play with 28 seconds left in the opening 20. Ty Barnstable and Nick Jones drew assists.
“First one, I kind of just got a break and I was looking low blocker,” said Ward, the son of former NHLer Dixon Ward. “I kind of whiffed on it and it slipped in but sometimes that happens. Some games, you think you should get one but you get unlucky and then some games, it shouldn’t go in and it does. It’s just weird that way.”
Penticton goalie Mathew Robson flashed a stellar glove on four or five Grade A scoring chances and finished with 29 saves. He is 12-2. Taylor (5-3) blocked 27 shots for Vernon.
“It was a tough game,” said Viper winger Hunter Zandee. “We eliminate that first period and we’re gonna win that hockey game. We just got into some penalty troubles and obviously it’s a big rivalry and we just let that get into our head. Five on five, I think we’re the better team. If we stay out of the box, it’s gonna be a different game.”
The Vipers, who welcomed back big d-men Cooper Watson and Connor Clouston from injured reserve, dipped to 8-7-2, good for third place in the Interior.
The Trail Smoke Eaters upended the Salmon Arm Silverback 4-2 to move three points back of Vernon. The Silverbacks are one point ahead of Trail.
The Vipers entertain the Merritt Centennials (8-7-2-1) Saturday night, while the Vees visit the Wenatchee Wild (12-2-1). Wenatchee dispatched the Cents 5-3 Friday night.
The Vees, meanwhile acquired the playing rights to 18-year-old forward Matt Gosiewski from the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) for future considerations Friday.