Linden Hora of the Vernon Vipers (right) battles for a loose puck against Sam Johnson of the Merritt Centennials in BCHL play Saturday at Kal Tire Place.

Linden Hora of the Vernon Vipers (right) battles for a loose puck against Sam Johnson of the Merritt Centennials in BCHL play Saturday at Kal Tire Place.

Vernon Vipers oust Merritt Centennials

Liam Finlay collects winner in Viper debut as Vernon topples Merritt Centennials 5-3 in BCHL play Saturday at Kal Tire Place.

He scored the winner, set up an insurance goal and added some jam to the powerplay.

The Vernon Vipers got exactly what they needed from newcomer Liam Finlay in a 5-3 B.C. Hockey League win over the Merritt Centennials Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.

Finlay found “instant chemistry” on a line with power forward Luke Voltin and speedster Jagger Williamson. Shortly after the Vipers’ Liam Coughlin had tied it 2-2 late in the second period, Finlay recorded his first goal as a Viper after a clever breakout started by Williamson at 18:23. Finlay converted a sweet one-touch return pass by Voltin on the resulting rush in front of 1,785 fans.

“It was a gift. I pretty much couldn’t miss it,” said the 17-year-old Kelowna product. “That line, we were buzzing all night. They’re two easy guys to play with.”

Vernon assistant coach Kevin Kraus was thrilled to see the powerplay click on two-of-three attempts, but said the 8-5-0-1 Snakes need to shore up defensively, especially with the 8-6 Trail Smoke Eaters visiting The Big Wheel tonight (7:00).

“We got two powerplay goals, but we let in two penalty-kill goals as well,” said Kraus. “We didn’t play very well defensively.”

The revamped Smokies, featuring former Viper Craig Martin and Vernon product Harlan Orr, have the fourth-best powerplay (25.40 per cent) and goals-for average (4.07) in the BCHL.

“Nick’s (head coach Deschenes) done a good job there,” said Kraus. “He’s brought in some talented players. Before, they didn’t have the skill to play that style of game.

“Their powerplay is pretty dangerous and they’re definitely an offensive team. It’ll be a good test.”

Tonight will be the first meeting between the two clubs this season. Vernon then begins a weekend home-and-home set with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (6-6-0-4) Friday at the Shaw Centre. The Gorillas visit Kal Tire Place Saturday (6 p.m.) before the Vipers head to the Kootenays for a rematch with the Smoke Eaters Sunday afternoon at Cominco Arena.

Thomas Aldworth, with his team-leading ninth goal, opened Vernon’s account after a defensive breakdown by Merritt (9-7). The Kellen, Tex. native fired from the slot after a nice backhand pass from second star TJ Dumonceaux.

The Cents stormed in front on second-period man-advantage goals by John Schiavo (11th) and James Neil (8th).

With Vernon up a goal going into period three, Finlay, named first star, took a pass from the point by Luke Shiplo then set up Dumonceaux (2nd) in the slot where he beat netminder Anthony Pupplo, five-hole, on a man advantage.

Mitch Meek (2nd) wired Vernon’s second powerplay snipe, going top corner on Pupplo (28 saves) after a shot-fake-the-pass from Williamson.

“Our powerplay is going to be successful,” said Finlay. “We’ve got plenty of options on it and we’ve got some talented guys who can make plays.”

Nick Fidanza (2nd) cut Vernon’s lead to two with 2:55 to play.

Vernon tender Jarrod Schamerhorn finished with 28 saves for his fifth win.

“Schamerhorn has done everything and more while Danny (Todosychuk) is (suspended),” said Kraus. “He’s shown he can be a No. 1 goalie in our league.”

SNAKE BITES: The Vipers debuted their striking, yellow third jerseys against Merritt…With Todosychuk and forward Riley Brandt serving the third of six-game suspensions, the Vipers called up forward Tyler Chavez Leach from the Revelstoke Grizzlies and netminder Mitch Profeit from the North Okanagan Knights Saturday. They will be available for action when Vernon heads to Trail. D-man Brandon Egli will return from his four-game ban Friday against the ‘Backs.