It was Faith Night Friday at Kal Tire Place with several churches putting their hands together for the Vernon Vipers.
The congregation of 2,225 witnessed the Vipers’ most complete game of the B.C. Hockey League: a 3-1 win over the powerful Penticton Vees. Fans stood and gave the Snakes an adoring ovation at the final buzzer, most believing Vernon has the moxy for a long playoff run.
The Vees and Vipers evenly split their season series and are expected to meet in the Interior Division finals.
The Vipers came within 2:37 of pitching a shutout as Grant Cruikshank buried a wrister from the point past a screened Darion Hanson with 53 seconds left in Brett Stapley’s minor penalty for holding.
“It was a good game,” said first star Steven Jandric, who recorded his 20th and 21st goals of the year. “We played how we were supposed to do, hard on them. Last game, we were 3-0 up on them and they came back and tied it and that was a tough one. We let off the gas and here we stepped on the gas the whole time. (Head coach Ferner) Mark really emphasizes about playing a tougher game, just finishing our checks and winning all the stick battles and just putting in the extra effort to win the battles.”
Jandric, a second-year power winger out of Prince George, became the first Viper to reach the 20-goal plateau this season. He didn’t set any personal goals before Game 1.
‘I never really thought about it but it’s nice that it happened and it’s also nice playing with Stapes and (Lambert) Jimmy.”
Hanson, a Minnesota product who is 10-2 and drawing renewed interest from NHL scouts, made 31 saves. The Vipers kept the Vees to the perimeter for the most part, but Hanson made a big leg save off Owen Sillinger in the first 20 and stymied Turner Ripplinger on a wrap-around in the second session.
“Our guys put in a 60-minute effort out there, especially that third period.” said Hanson, who didn’t see Cruikshank’s shot go off the post. “It’s not easy to keep that team off the board. They got a late powerplay but that’s how it goes sometimes.
“Last game, we had a 3-0 lead and we blew it, so coming into this game, we learned from that, and we really beared down. Luckily, this time, we had the intermission to kind of gather ourselves and we went out and really put it all out there; I’m really proud of our group.”
Hanson, a Union University Dutchmen commit, relishes the thought of a Vernon-Penticton post-season dance, and likes the make-up of the Vipers.
“I think we have a really good group and that makes it a lot easier for everyone to be buying in. A lot of real good humans in that locker room, a lot of real mature kids, even the young guys, very mature. They all understand that team success brings personal success too. That’s really the basis for winning. Come playoff time, we’re ready to go.”
Jandric went hard to the net and converted a rebound after Lambert’s slapper from the right sidewall. Stapley drew the secondary assist with 56 seconds left in the first period.
Vernon went up 2-0 at 3:15 of the second stanza when Jandric tapped in a rebound after Cameron Trott’s point wrister was stopped by Robson. Stapley had the other helper.
Former Western Leaguer Austin Adamson produced his 10th snipe of the year late in the period with a shot along the ice after Luke Gingras’s shot bounced high in the air in the mid slot.
The Vipers improved to 24-15-4-4 with a smothering defence-first system, while the Interior Division-leading Vees dipped to 32-11-1-1, 10 points ahead of Vernon. Robson was stellar with 31 saves and is now 27-10.
Penticton captain Nic Jones, who has 92 career Junior A snipes in between one season with the NCAA Ohio State Buckeyes, gave props to the Vipers for being extremely tenacious on the puck.
“Obviously, it’s a tough loss,” said the Edmonton native. “It was basically a 3-0 game since we got that late goal at the end. They’re a good team; they work extremely hard and it’s always a challenge to win on the road. They played a good game.”
Jones realizes a Vees-Vipers playoff war is possible, but just because Penticton is hosting the Western Canada Cup won’t make the Vees complacent.
“We think they’re a great team and they’re second in the division for a reason and we could see them down the road, but right now we’re just worried about one game. We want to go right through the front door. We’re not worried about the Westerns, we’re about winning the BCHL championship, going to the Westerns and winning the RBC (in Couburg, Ont.).”
Penticton monster d-man Griffin Mendel, who joined Viper goalie Ty Taylor with Team West at the CJHL Prospects Game Wednesday night in Cornwall, said Vernon simply cashed in on their chances Friday night. He also favours a seven-game series come late March.
“Love playing Vernon,” said Mendel, of Kelowna. “Hopefully, we both get there; it’ll be a good series with two even teams. It just comes down to who comes to play that night.”
Mendel, a 6-foot-4, 217-pound University of Denver Pioneer commit being watched by Philly Flyer scout Jack McIlhargey and others Friday, wants a national ring.
“It always kind of feels cheap if you get the bye (to Royal Bank Cup) so we wanna earn our way to make it.”
There were a number of skirmishes all over the rink with things really heating up when Matt Gosiewski took Lambert into the sidewall near the Penticton bench, earning a boarding minor. Lambert was down for about 45 seconds. Jesse Lansdell tossed some heavy hits and took the Fortis Energy Player of the Game for Vernon.
Scratches for the Vipers were forwards Riley Brandt and Hunter Zandee. The Vees were without D Gabe Bast, D Greg Brydon, D James Miller and F Ryley Risling. Zandee suffered a serious knee injury when hit by the Vees’ Taylor Ward in the 3-3 double overtime tie Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Penticton – ranked 12th in the nation – visit the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight, while the Snakes entertain the Nanaimo Clippers.
Lucas Finner scored at 49 seconds of the first overtime as the Clippers trimmed the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-3 before 1,050 fans at the Shaw Centre.