Vernon H&L Glass Junior Vipers returned unscathed from the Rumble in the Rockies Atom A Development minor hockey tournament in Jasper.
And with gold medals around their necks.
The Vipers were the only B.C. team in the eight-team event filled with traditional Alberta powerhouses like Sherwood Park, Grande Prairie, St. Albert and Edmonton.
Vernon cruised through their side of the draw with a 3-0 record to take the top seed heading into the semi-finals.
The Junior Vipers won their opening game 6-3 against a previously undefeated Sherwood Park team, dominated St. Albert 6-1, and rolled over Ft. Saskatchewan 13-4.
Vernon had some dazzling individual efforts, like Harry Watson’s four-goal performance against Fort Sask., Dom Silbernagel’s three goals and an assist versus St. Albert, and Jack Saxton’s two goals and one helper versus Sherwood Park, but Vipers head coach Jason Podollan was quick to compliment the team effort.
“Our team played as a unit of five every time they were on the ice. We played with pace and we outworked the competition, and our group was rewarded for their efforts.” he said.
Vernon drew another previously undefeated team in the semi-finals when they ran into a big and strong Grande Prairie team. In that contest Vernon received a solid effort between the pipes by Emma Ward. Ward lost her bid for a shut-out with 2:22 remaining in the game, but her teammates had already put five on the board and sailed into the finals with a 5-1 decision.
Vernon played without steady defenseman Grayson McKeown, due to injury, which left Max Power, Cameron Matile, Preston Sutch, and Carter Hutton to double shift the entire tournament.
“Our D played excellent,” Podollan raved. “They moved the puck, they battled, and they never quit. Their second effort was tremendous all weekend.”
In the finals H&L Glass played the same Sherwood Park team they faced in the round-robin, but this time around was a lot different.
Vernon took an early lead in the gold medal game. A well-executed line rush resulted in a goal by power forward Mathis Paull, with assists to Cohen Hogberg and Hudson Podollan. Vernon went ahead by two, only to have Sherwood park tie it up.
First-year forward Alexander Sharman immediately answered with his second of the game, a short side laser that went under the bar, to put Vernon back in front.
Sherwood Park refused to go quietly as they battled back to take a 4-3 lead in the third period. Vernon kept working and tied the game with six minutes to play on a quick wrist shot by Colton Sitter, the lone assist going to Watson.
With the game tied and looking destined for overtime, the Sherwood Park team was awarded a penalty shot with 1:45 remaining in the game. Vernon goalie Cohen Bailey was up to the challenge and made the biggest save of his young career to keep the game knotted at 4-4.
After the Vernon team mobbed Bailey, they used the momentum to win the following face-off and breakout three-on-two. Silbernagel moved the puck wide to underage forward Berkeley Reid, who quickly deposited the puck top glove and became the potential hero, as Vernon took a 5-4 lead with 1:31 remaining.
With the Sherwood Park net empty and an extra attacker on the ice, the Vipers had to withstand a heavy attack but preserved the victory to take home the top prize and go undefeated in the tournament.
Podollan could not give enough praise to the team effort.
“I am so proud of these kids. They deserve to feel like champions because they played like champions all weekend. Every single player made a big contribution, and this will be something they will remember for a long time.”
PEE WEE TIER 3
Vernon Nixon Wenger Vipers tuned up for their eight-team home tournament this weekend with a 7-3 loss to the West Kelowna Warriors in league play.
Oscar Homeniuk made 43 saves for the Vipers, who got goals from Teigan Kelley (assisted by Reid Williamson) and unassisted breakaway goals from Kyle Gillick and Nolan Jensen.
The Vipers are in a pool with Williams Lake, Langley and Vancouver, and open the tournament at 3:45 p.m. Friday at Kal Tire Place North against Williams Lake. Vernon plays Langley Saturday at 8:45 a.m. and Vancouver at 3:45 p.m., both games at Kal Tire Place North.
The other pool features Winfield, Semiahmoo (White Rock), Chilliwack and the Arbutus Club of Vancouver.
The championship game is slated for Sunday at 12:45 p.m. at Kal Tire Place North.