Just call it a week-long, pre-Christmas cruise with stops in Powell River, Port Alberni and Nanaimo along with a pair of excursions at Kal Tire Place.
And while there wasn’t any seven-course dinners or penthouse hot tubbing, the cruise turned out to be pretty pleasurable for the Vernon Vipers.
Three wins, one loss and a date with the last-place Surrey Eagles tonight at The Big Wheel has the Vipers in decent shape well into the second-half of the B.C. Hockey League season.
The Vipers, blown out 8-2 by the Nanaimo Clippers Sunday afternoon at Frank Crane Arena, are fourth overall in the 16-team BCHL and second in the Interior Division at 20-9-1-2. Vernon is 8-2 in their last 10 games.
The Shipmen rang up six third-period goals – two on the powerplay – as they improved to 23-10-0-1, second overall behind the Penticton Vees.
“They were at the end of a road trip, so we knew if we came at them hard, they were going to give up sooner or later,” said Clipper forward Brett Roulston. “I think that’s what we did. We pushed them all game and eventually they broke.”
And they did so still without three of their top-four scorers in Devin Brosseau, Sheldon Rempal and Jake Jackson. Rempal is at the World Junior Hockey Challenge in Kindersley, Sask., while Brosseau and Jackson are injured.
Clipper head coach Mike Vandekamp, who won a Fred Page Cup with Vernon, said the key was not to let the Vipers carry any momentum.
“We felt like if we were good in the first half, we might be able to take ‘er over in the second half and run them out of gas a little bit and I think that’s probably how it played out,” said Vandekamp.
Aggressive forechecking and finishing checks, Vandekamp said, are ways to wear down opponents.
“If anything, I think it’s just a matter of not making anything easy on them,” the coach said.
Assistant coach Kevin Kraus said the Vipers were hoping to finish the road trip with a strong third period.
“We had a decent first two periods for our fourth game in five nights, but we just collapsed in the third period,” said Kraus. “We looked tired, we were frustrated, we took some penalties and we folded our tent and got complacent which is something we will address.”
Nanaimo took a 2-1 lead into the third period and then scored goals 10 seconds apart early in the frame. Vernon responded right away, making it 4-2, but the Clippers kept coming.
Brendan Taylor (2), Anthony Rinaldi (1+2), Nick Guerra, Player of the Week Nicolas Carrier, Roulston, Cole Maier and Jacob Hanlon handled the Clipper attack. T.J. Dumonceaux, with his 12th of the year, and Riley Brandt, with his fifth, on a gorgeous roof daddy, responded for the Vipers.
Vernon product Spencer Hewson pocketed three assists for Nanaimo, earning the Fortis Energy Player of the Game.
Guillaume Decelles, whose .927 save percentage is the highest in the league, made 32 saves for his 20th win. He’s in his first year with Nanaimo after playing 42 games in the Quebec Major League over two seasons.
“Basically we just played a team game. All lines were firing,” said Roulston. “We’re short-staffed right now, so it was real important that everyone was going.”
Vandekamp coached the Vipers for two years, guiding them to the 2003 Fred Page Cup with a sweep over the Chilliwack Chiefs.
“I’ve been gone from there for a long time, but there’s still a personal connection to those people and the old jersey. It’s good memories for me,” he said. “So yeah, I think they’re always a little special, probably the ones back in their rink even more so.”
Jarrod Schamerhorn gave up six goals before giving way to call-up Gunnar Neilsen in front of 1,100 fans.
In Port Alberni, the Vipers grabbed a 2-0 lead on goals from Thomas Aldworth (his 21st) and another top-shelf beauty from Brandt, who celebrated his 18th birthday Friday, in a 5-3 win over the Bulldogs.
Chris Schutz, with his 17th, and Eric Margo, with his third, levelled the score late in the second period. Liam Coughlin netted his 12th to put the Snakes up by one with 46 seconds left in the period.
Mitch Makin equalized, shorthanded, 6:34 into the third before Coughlin responded four minutes later, from Dumonceaux and Aldworth.
Dumonceaux added an empty netter with three seconds to play, assisted by Coughlin and Aldworth.
The Dawgs, who just lost second-leading scorer Evan Tironese for the season with a shoulder injury, outshot Vernon 37-24 before 958 fans at Weyerhaeuser Arena.
“It was a good road win,” said Kraus. “They are a big, physical team and we tried to match them while also using our skill. It’s a pretty loud building.”
SNAKE BITES: Winger Trevor Fidler suffered a concussion Friday night in Powell River and is listed day-to-day…Former Vipers Connor and Kellen Jones made their season debuts Saturday night with the AHL Oklahoma City Barons, who clipped the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-2 at the Cox Convention Centre. The twin brothers were a combined minus-2, with Connor registering three shots, and Kellen two. They battled a familiar foe in ex-Salmon Arm Siverback sniper Mark Zengerle…Former Viper Marcus Basara earned 1+1 as the Alaska Nanooks shut out the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers 4-0 in NCAA Division 1 play Saturday at the Carlson Center. Basara is second in team scoring with 8-7-15 in 18 games. Nanooks’ freshman Colton Sparrow, a Vernon minor hockey product and ex-Viper, has 1-3-4 in 14 games…Vernon’s Colton Thibault rang up 1+3 as the Silverbacks iced the host Merritt Centennials Saturday night. Thibault has 9-7-16 in his second season.