The Vernon Vipers rode the special teams train to a 7-4 win over the host West Kelowna Warriors in B.C. Hockey League play Saturday night at Royal LePage Place.
The Snakes clicked twice on the powerplay and added two more shorthanded goals in front of 942 fans, rebounding from a 3-1 loss a night earlier to the Penticton Vees.
Vernon, now 6-4-0-1, is a league-worst six per cent (3-of-50) with the man advantage. Yet, their five shorties are tops in the 16-team loop.
“We could have probably had five shorthanded,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Kevin Kraus.
“We definitely have some speed with our forwards when we attack. It’s risky though; it’s not our game-plan to attack the other team’s powerplay.”
The Vipers will play the third of nine straight Interior Divisional games Friday night (7:00) when they host the Merritt Centennials (7-4) at Kal Tire Place. Vernon heads to the South Okanagan Events Centre for a rematch with the league-leading Vees (10-1) Saturday.
“We’ve got an important stretch coming up here,” said Kraus. “The team’s starting to gel and we’re starting to get some chemistry and shore up our systems.
“We’ve got talent, but you’ve got to play as a unit.”
West Kelowna (5-5-0-1) capitalized on Vernon defensive turnovers to jump out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Liam Blackburn (8th goal) and Michael Buonincontri (5th). Liam Coughlin (4th) opened Vernon’s account later in the first period on a shorthanded 2-on-1 with first star Anthony Latina.
Mackenzie Bauer, with his fourth goal, equalized on the powerplay, assisted by d-men Luke Shiplo and captain Riley Guenther. Latina (6th) gave Vernon its first lead midway through the second period.
“We just never gave up,” said Kraus. “We got down 2-0 right away. Then our special teams started to click. We were rushing the puck, we were crashing the net. We were definitely using our speed to our advantage.”
Warriors’ sniper Jason Cotton (5th) and Vipers’ buzzsaw TJ Dumonceaux (shorthanded), with his first of the season, swapped singles before the second period ended.
Goals by Trevor Fidler (3rd) and Luke Voltin (1st) padded Vernon’s lead before Jordan Masters (4th) brought the hosts to within a deuce with 3:57 to play. Latina buried an empty netter a minute later to seal the win.
A line brawl broke out at the buzzer that started as both teams started pushing and shoving in Todosychuk’s crease. West Kelowna’s Kyle Marino went after Vernon rookie d-man Ryley Booth. The Vipers’ Riley Brandt then charged into the fray to get at Marino, but ended up tussling with the Warriors’ Mac Ferner.
Todosychuk then skated over and hauled Kehoe out of the scrum and more than held his own in a spirit bout that is making the rounds on YouTube. The Snakes’ Brandon Egli and Warriors’ Brett Mennear also went at it.
Vernon was already down a man as Blaine Caton was still serving a slashing minor as time expired.
“We were shorthanded and there were two guys pounding away on one of our guys,” said Todosychuk. “With the score, we kinda figured things could get out of hand.”
League disciplinarians were still deliberating possible suspensions as of The Morning Star’s press deadline Tuesday afternoon.
In addition to finally finding some success on the powerplay, the Vipers also got some much-needed secondary scoring in reaching Saturday’s season-high output. Kraus was happy to see the hardworking Dumonceaux and snake-bitten Voltin pot their first of the season.
“We kind of broke out there,” said Kraus. “It’ll boost some confidence for guys who weren’t getting points. But we just want them to play a complete hockey game. We’re not really worried about their points.”
SNAKE BITES: Coughlin, a second-year forward, has committed to the NCAA Division 1 Vermont Catamounts for next season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound South Boston product has four goals and two assists in 11 games this season. The 20-year-old had originally signed to start this season with the Boston University Terriers, but decommitted in order to improve his grades. Coughlin was drafted this summer by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round, 130th overall…Injured forwards Dumonceaux and Fidler are questionable for weekend action.