An eight-minute stretch of the first period Sunday helped lift the Vernon Vipers into third place in the B.C. Hockey League’ Interior Division.
Goals from Connor Sleeth, Connor Marritt, Jackson Caller and Keigo Hackisuka from 16:53 to 8:53 gave Vernon a 4-1 lead and the Vipers rolled to a 5-3 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters in front of 1,979 fans enjoying a Sunday afternoon game at Kal Tire Place.
The victory snapped a four-game losing skid against the Smokies, and Trail’s loss, combined with Penticton’s 5-4 overtime win against the West Kelowna Warriors, clinched the Interior Division for the Vees.
Trail pulled starting goalie Matteo Paler-Chow after Hachisuka’s second goal of the season and replaced him with Logan Terness who stopped all 17 shots he faced in relief.
Logan Cash scored into an empty net for Vernon at 19:18 of the third period.
Reilly Herbst made 22 saves for the Vipers (28-22-2-1), who are tied in points (59) with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (27-20-4-1) but have one more win, though the Gorillas have a game in hand.
Both teams are one point ahead of the Wenatchee Wild (27-22-3-1) with the Vipers having a date Valentine’s Day, Friday, with the Wild in Washington.
Vernon hosts the sixth-place West Kelowna Warrirors Saturday at 6 p.m. at Kal Tire Place.