Anatomy of a goal: Vernon Vipers forward Coleton Bilodeau beats Salmon Arm defender – and former Viper – Darren Rizzolo, then gets the puck past Gorillas goalie Matthew Armitage to open the scoring Friday, as the Vipers defeated the Silverbacks 4-1 at Kal Tire Place. (Katherine Peters/Morning Star)

Vernon Vipers remain in thick of BCHL playoff push

Vernon sweeps weekend home games over Salmon Arm and Powell River; still in sixth place

Even riding a three-game winning streak, the Vernon Vipers can’t make much headway in the B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Conference standings.

A 4-1 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Friday, followed by a 5-2 thumping of the Powell River Kings Sunday, both at Kal Tire Place, saw the Vipers (17-16-7-3) remain in sixth place with 44 points.

The Vipers are three points up on the Trail Smoke Eaters (16-20-6-3) with two games in hand, one point behind the fifth-place Gorillas (20-17-4-1), who have a game in hand on Vernon, and five points back of the fourth-place West Kelowna Warriors (24-19-0-1) with a game in hand. The Vipers and Warriors meet Friday night in West Kelowna.

If the playoffs were to start this week, the Vipers would play the defending champion Wenatchee Wild in the opening round of the Interior Conference matchups, but things could change fast down the stretch. Only 11 points separate third place through seventh in the conference.

The Vipers stretched their win streak to three Sunday in front of 1,782 fans. Josh Latta, Teddy Wooding, newly acquired Lane Zablocki — obtained at last week’s trade deadline — and Tyler Ho staked Vernon to a 4-0 lead midway through the contest. Wooding would add a second goal, shorthanded, to make it 5-1 Vernon in the third.

Aidan Porter made 22 saves for the win in goal while Vernon peppered Powell River netminder Matteo Paler-Chow with 33 saves. Wooding was named the game’s first star.

Wooding earned Fortis B.C. Energy Player of the Game honours Friday as the Vipers never trailed their rivals from the Shuswap.

Coleton Bilodeau and Latta gave Vernon a 2-0 lead before Salmon Arm’s Matthew Verboon replied for Salmon Arm late in the first period. Verboon helped Switzerland finish fourth at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver-Victoria.

Connor Marritt made it 3-1 Vernon on a second-period power play, and Elean Bar lev wise scored at 13:34 of the final period to round out the scoring.

Ahead of the league trade deadline, the Vipers made a pair of deadline deals.

In the first move, the Vipers sent defenceman Mitch Andres, 20, to the Chilliwack Chiefs in exchange for defenceman Will Dow-Kenny. The 18-year-old from Abbotsford was originally traded by the Vipers in the offseason in exchange for Carver Watson. He has one goal and seven points in 34 games with the Chiefs.

“It’s always tough to make a trade. In this case, Mitch Andres was a warrior for us and was a big piece to our blue line,” said head coach and general manager of the Vipers, Mark Ferner. “We know what we’re getting in Will and we know that Mitch is going to a great organization in Chilliwack.”

In the second move of the day, Vernon added Zablocki, 20, a forward from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

Zablocki is a third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings and has played in 22 games with the Rockets this season registering four goals and eight assists.

“We felt with the trouble we’ve had scoring, the addition of Lane will really help fill that void,” said Ferner. “He’s a proven scorer that we feel will come in and make a big impact.”

Zablocki, from Wetaskiwin, Alta., has played 223 career WHL games for the Rockets, Victoria Royals, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Red Deer Rebels and Regina Pats. He has scored 62 goals including a career-high 28 in 64 games in 2016-17 with the Pats and Rebels.

Zablocki spent one year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, 20014-15, with the Sherwood Park Crusaders, scoring 15 goals in 55 games.

The Silverbacks acquired former Vipers defenceman Darren Rizzolo from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in exchange for the CJHL playing rights to Ethan McLaughlin and future considerations.

The Vipers host the Prince George Spruce Kings (26-11-1-4) Saturday at 6 p.m. at Kal Tire Place.

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