The Vernon Vipers go into the fourth Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack with a firmer stance on how head coach Mark Ferner wants them to play.
They also go into the B.C. Hockey League’s extravaganza – built mainly for NCAA and NHL scouts – on a major high after grounding the Chilliwack Chiefs 8-3 before 1,600 fans Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
Chilliwack ended a three-game road swing by tying the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-4 in a Sunday matinee at the Shaw Centre.
The Vipers erupted for three goals in 3:05 shortly after the national anthem, chasing starter Aidan Pelino after Riley Brandt went top cheddar from the right side on a delayed penalty, making it 3-0.
Ferner said a team meeting set the tone for the Vipers, who had a few players refusing to dish off the puck in a loss to the Coquitlam Express Friday night.
“We had a real good talk this morning about how we needed to be as a group,” said Ferner, moments after the win.
“I just told them we have to better as a team more so than individuals and I asked what that meant and we came to the conclusion that we needed to be a better team. It’s not about individuals here. I think they responded. We have 14, 15 new bodies and so we knew it was gonna take time.
“The kids had a great start and then we bent. That’s a good hockey team over there and we’re not nearly where we need to be. Structurally, we can see signs of real good things. There’s no question we have guys who can put the puck in the net. Now, it’s just a matter that we’re paying attention to the all the other details that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet.”
D-man Darren Rizzolo, obtained in a recent trade from the Chiefs, opened the offence on a gorgeous back-door feed from Odeen Tufto, eight seconds into a power play. New Yorker Joe Cipollone converted a rebound in tight 55 seconds later after a shot by Nic Rasovic.
Matteo Esposito took over the Chiefs’ crease and was actually beat by Chilliwack blueliner Bennett Morrison, who knocked the puck in trying to hold up Tufto.
Liam Finlay was given credit for the goal midway through the opening 20. Morrison almost pulled a carbon-copy late in the game, shaking his head as he tapped Esposito on the pad.
Vernon (2-2-0-1) went in front 5-0 six minutes into the second period with Brandt wiring a wrister from the right wing after dishing a wicked check seconds earlier in the neutral zone.
The Chiefs, perhaps sensing the Vipers had gone into protect-the-lead mode, dominated the rest of the period, outshooting Vernon 21-9 and getting snipes from dangling Jesse Lansdell and Vimal Sukumaran 91 seconds apart.
Tufto, Colton McCarthy and Steven Jandric, into an empty net, completed the Vernon offence in the third period.
The Chiefs pulled Esposito and clicked on a 6-on-4 powerplay with Mark Esposito beating Vernon goalie Jarrod Schamerhorn with 4:50 remaining. Chilliwack (1-2-1) outshot Vernon 45-29 but had trouble containing the Snakes’ speed most of the night.
Brandt, Tufto and Vernon d-man Bo Pellah were named the three stars. Jimmy Lambert pocketed a pair of assists for the Snakes.
“It’s good to get that first win at home and now go to the Showcase and hopefully pull out four points there,” said Brandt. “We’ll be working hard all week and then it will be good for us to spend lots of time together at the Showcase.”
Linden Hora, sent to the Chiefs in the Rizzolo deal, got a regular shift with the only jersey without a name bar.
“We’re a hard-working team that goes to the dirty areas in front of the net and we have a bunch of skilled guys too so we’re going to have a good all-around team. Vernon played pretty well; it was tough to see them win.”
Hora scored his first goal as the Chiefs tied the Silverbacks Sunday.
Goalie Brendan Barry, of Kelowna, and forward Zach Andrusiak, of Armstrong, are in Viper camp as free agents.
Barry, 17, was sent home by the Penticton Vees last week for allegedly breaking team rules. He got in 14 games with the Vees last year after guiding the Okanagan Major Midgets to a bronze-medal at the 2014 Telus Cup nationals. Barry, the son of NHL player agent J.P. Barry, has a scholarship to the Clarkson Golden Knights.
Andrusiak, 17, was released by the WHL Tri-Cities Americans. The 5-foot-10 skilled forward rang up 38 points in 37 games with the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights last season. He also played five games for Salmon Arm.
Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge was given clearance to skate Monday, but not tend net after taking a shot to the head in a Friday morning practice.
Vernon faces the Wenatchee Wild (3-0) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and battles the Cowichan Valley Capitals (3-0) Sunday at 10 a.m.
Former NHLer Jack McIlhargey, who played in the BCJHL with the New Westminster Royals, is the honorary chairman of the Showcase. McIlhargey scouts for the Philadelphia Flyers.