The Watkin Motors Mustangs captains (from left) Reed Cashato

The Watkin Motors Mustangs captains (from left) Reed Cashato

Vernon Mustangs charge for Coca-Cola title

Vernon Watkin Motors Mustangs prepare for 41st annual Coca-Cola Classic Pee Wee Hockey Invitational.

They rode in the Winter Carnival Parade on a truck customized with a smoke machine Saturday.

On Sunday, they stopped the Kamloops Tier 2 Blazers 4-2 in an exhibition game.

Now comes the real fun and games as the Watkin Motors Mustangs open the prestigious 41st Coca-Cola Classic Pee Wee Invitational Thursday at 8 a.m. against the Vancouver Thunderbirds. A total of eight teams are in the hockey extravaganza which includes alumni like Ray Whitney, Daymond Langkow, Brent Gilchrist and Doug Bodger.

In other Thursday games at Civic Arena, the Spokane Jr. Chiefs meet the Edmonton NWZ Raiders at 10:15 a.m., the Bow Valley Flames of Calgary face the Juan de Fuca Grizzlies at 12:30 p.m., the South Delta Storm battle the Seattle Sno Kings at 2:45, the Mustangs take on Spokane at 6 p.m. and Edmonton plays Vancouver at 8 p.m.

“We’re definitely anxious and excited and a little nervous,” said classy 12-year-old Mustang captain Reed Cashato, who scored once Sunday in Kamloops. “Our overall goal is to win the tournament. When we skate hard and hit, we play our best games.”

Forward Matt Kowalski, an alternate captain, was sick and missed the tournament opener last year. He’s ready to go this time around.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said the BX School Grade 7 student who also scored versus Kamloops. “Connor (Johnston) and I are the only two players who played in it last year.”

Said the speedy Johnston, a Silver Star student who learned to skate on his backyard rink: “We use our speed and we hit. We don’t score a lot, but when we do get a chance, we try really hard to bury them. If there’s a rebound, we go hard to the net.”

Roadrunner Austin Caldwell, 12, says the Mustangs will play to their strengths facing bigger teams than them.

“When we’re passing the puck really well and skating and hitting, we have success,” said Caldwell.

Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola Tier 2 Midget Vipers swept the heavily favoured Salmon Arm SilverTips 4-3 and 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs.

The 1-15-2 Vipers opened the scoring in Game 1 at the Shaw Centre with a shot by Jacob Dolinar, assisted by Carson Tucker. The Vipers added a powerplay goal by Chad Thomas, assisted by Taylor Hamilton-Gee and Brad Jones.

The 10-3-5 SilverTips responded early in the second, but the Snakes caught a break when Thomas took a pass from Matt Halvorson and put the puck on net. The goalie made the stop, but Dolinar collected the rebound and, looking to make the pass, banked the puck in off the goalie.

Salmon Arm tied it with about seven minutes to go, but the Vipers countered just 40 seconds later when Halvorson took a pass from Griffen Fried and, catching the SilverTips off guard, finished with a rocket to the top corner. Jayden Campbell got the win with another stellar performance in net.

In Game 2 Sunday at Civic, the Vipers had their best game of the season, despite allowing the SilverTips a powerplay goal just two minutes into the game.

“The SilverTips’ strategy to try and neutralize the key players on the Vipers meant that they underestimated the skills and determination of the other players on the team,” said Vernon coach Rob Spraggs. “They paid dearly for that oversight.”

Jaydon Agar equalized on a pass from Thomas, and struck again a minute later, burying a rebound after a shot by Tucker, who was fed by Thomas. The rest of the game was a chess match with the two team exchanging chances, but Vernon held on in front of a superb Bruin Stair.

“Every single player on this team worked so hard to get to this point,” said Spraggs. “The skills they honed at the OTR during the year allowed the coaching staff to establish an aggressive game-plan to neutralize the potent Salmon Arm offence. It’s emotionally hard on the players to go through a season with as few wins as we have had this year, but I credit my coaches (Mike Burke and Scott Flood) for keeping everything positive and focused with the players.”

In Midget Tier 1 action, the Vernon Home Building Centre Vipers earned a 3-3 tie with the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton Sunday afternoon.

The fast-paced tilt was scoreless for 20 minutes before the teams exchanged a pair of goals in the middle frame. Trevor Pickett scored on a rebound, assisted by Patrick Dove, and Richard Meaney went top shelf on a breakaway, from Dove and Ryan Beach.

Defenceman Beach scored on a seeing-eye wrister, from Braydon Sophonow, early in the third to take the lead but the Vipers got into penalty trouble and the OHA eventually tied it on the powerplay. Evan Campagnolo played solid in net for the Vipers, including a game-saver on a rebound late in the game.

“It was a great improvement from Friday night’s game (loss to North Kamloops),” said head coach Jim Armstrong. “We played real well for 40 minutes, got away from it a bit in the third but showed good energy to get the tie.”

The 5-9-6 Vipers now face the 7-7-6 Lions in a best-of-three semifinal, starting Sunday, to see who gets to play the 14-2-4 league-champion Kelowna Rockets in the final. Kelowna is hosting the provincials this year so whichever team wins the semifinal gets an automatic berth in the provincials.

In Juvenile Rep playoff action, the Vernon Battery Chargers lost 7-3 to the Winfield Bruins in Game 1 in a best-of-three final in front of 200 fans Saturday night at Civic.

Jamie Sawchuk scored from Theo Wagner, Eli Longworth converted a great feed from Clay Ricketts as Longworth was coming out of the penalty box, and Aaron Campeau scored on a great individual effort, for the Chargers.

Game 2 goes Saturday, 6 p.m., in Winfield.

The Vernon Machine Vipers outlasted host Kamloops 7-6 in exhibition Bantam Tier 3 play Saturday.

Alex Richardson, Jarett Campbell, Gabe Turner, Josh DeCoffe, Zach Manton, Kaden Black and Richard Thompson, with the winner, from Bryton Stead and Manton, with 18 seconds left, handled the Vernon offence.

The Sladen Moore Pee Wee Lakers took bronze at the Super Heart Female Tournament in Surrey.

The Lakers started by upending the Abbotsford Ice 3-1 on goals from Juli Gilowski, Andie Kaneda and Carli Southam.

The Sladen Moore crew then lost 3-2 to Chilliwack, with Cassidy Marshall and Kaneda supplying the goals. Samantha Head stopped 22 shots.

The Lakers outgunned the West Kootenays 5-2 Saturday morning, backed by a 20-save showing from Head. Offence came from Mairyn Tucker, Amy Fox, Kaneda, Tiera Joseph and Makenna Southam, with support from Tylee Cooper.

Vernon ended the tourney Saturday night with a 5-1 loss to Surrey. Kaneda scored with good offensive support from Tucker, Kaneda and Courtenay Graves, and a strong defensive showing by Ailish Curran.

The Pee Wee Tier 3 Nixon Wenger Jets fell 5-1 to the Nelson Leafs in the semis of the Castlegar Rebels International Tournament. Kyle Sherwood had the Jets’ snipe on a set up by linemates Jenna Fletcher and Keaton McCune. Game MVP went to Coleton Bilodeau.

The Jets opened by stuffing the Cranbrook Ice 7-1, taking an early 3-1 lead on goals from Josh Bridge, Nick Cherkowski and Bilodeau. The Ice pressed in the second, but the Jets’ Finnian O’Keefe scored off a great passing play initiated by d-man Dawson Chase and Cherkowski.

The Jets got two goals from Bilodeau to complete his hat trick, and one by Jaxson Cummings. Kieran Watts turned away 20 shots and Cherkowski skated away with game MVP.

Saturday, the Nixon Wenger gang bowed 4-1 to Montana’s Missoula Bruins. The Jets scored on a redirection by game MVP Liam Hennig. Jayden Jensen Hunter faced 23 shots.

The Jets finished preliminary play by tying the Rebels 4-4, giving up the equalizer with 22 seconds to play. Watts was stellar in facing 48 shots (Jets mustered 12) and was the MVP.

In Atom Development action, the North Okanagan Knights bushed back the South Okanagan Jr. Coyotes 5-3 in Osoyoos. Eli Dwyer (2), Korden Haller, Bryan Brew and Wesley Graves scored for the Knights, who got goaltending from Caedon Bellmann and Easton Hunter.