Fully aware his players were already feeling blue, Mark Ferner wasn’t about to unleash a barrage of verbal assaults in a post-game address Wednesday night at Kal Tire Place.
Instead, the Vernon Vipers’ head coach/GM discussed the 5-4 loss to the Merritt Centennials and made things clear on why the B.C. Hockey League team had its 11-game points streak snapped.
Highly-touted rookie goalie Ty Taylor let in a couple of shots he wants back and pretty much everybody else made a defensive blunder or two as the Vipers lost to the gritty Cents for the second time in five nights.
“Our effort wasn’t very good,” said Ferner. “We were sloppy, selfish and didn’t manage the puck very well. Give them (Cents) credit, they kept coming and we deserved to lose tonight.”
Vernon blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads while getting caught on at least two goals trying to take shortcuts.
“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” said Ferner, protecting Taylor’s off night. “It’s been a long time coming. There were some plays out there that I was not happy with. I can go in there and yell and scream all I want, but it has to come from the players. That peer pressure of not letting your teammates down is invaluable and that’s basically what we talked about with our effort for 60 minutes. We did some good things, no question, but sometimes the winning covers up the stink and tonight we weren’t very good.”
Hunter Zandee pocketed his fourth and fifth goals of the year for the Vipers, putting them up 3-1 on a powerplay midway through the second period. Steven Jandric, with his 19th, and Austin Adamson, with his ninth, registered tallies four minutes apart to make it 2-0 Vernon nine minutes after the national anthem.
First star Chase Bell responded for the Cents off a neutral-zone turnover four minutes after Adamson’s goal before 1,660 fans.
Vernon minor hockey grad Brett Jewell pounced on a puck, which had wildly sailed about 10 feet high before landing at the side of Taylor, with six minutes left in the second period.
“That was a good win for our club,” said Jewell, the Cents’ speedy captain who has nine goals. “Personally, it’s obviously easy for me to get up and excited for games here and I think that plays to my advantage; I always play pretty well here and tonight the whole team did and it paid off for us.”
Cade Gleekel fooled Taylor five-hole on a weak shot from the point to level the score 2:37 into the third stanza.
Zandee buried a gorgeous high wrister from the top of the circle past Jake Berger just 31 seconds later, but Zach Metza answered four minutes later on a low point show to the far corner 72 seconds into a powerplay (Sol Seibel off for slashing), making it 4-4.
Bell scored directly off a face-off with 5:13 remaining and the sloppily played tilt appeared heading to overtime. Bell beat Brett Stapley cleanly on the draw and fired a shot glove-side which struck the post and in the net.
“It finally paid off after about 30 tries,” smiled Bell, a Lethbridge product with nine snipes on the season. “I’ve been doing it for years and it finally worked. I just try to be quick and slide it through his legs and then I either shoot it quick or go back door and that time, I shot it and lucky enough, it went in. I have no idea where it went in.”
Added Jewell: “That’s a set play for him. no one else really works on it. We’ve seen him try it a couple times but I think that’s the first time it’s worked in a game. I don’t think either team was at their best and that happens sometimes and we found a way to win.”
Zandee, a Kelowna native who rated second star, said the Vipers need to be more accountable as they head into a two-game weekend, starting Friday night in West Kelowna. He said some “selfish acts” cost the Snakes.
“This is good,” said Zandee. “We can take this now and rebuild. Now we know what it’s like to lose, I guess, and it’s gonna make us better.”
Despite being all but guaranteed a playoff spot, the 19-year-old Bell said the Cents treat every game with post-season implications.
“We’re trying to move ourselves up in the standings and try and get the matchup we want. You never know, especially our division where everything’s so tight.”
The Cents, who trimmed the Snakes 2-1 in double overtime Saturday night in Vernon and surprised the division-leading Penticton Vees a week ago, improved to 17-17-8-1, giving them a share of fourth spot in the Interior Division with the Trail Smoke Eaters. The second-place Vipers dipped to 22-14-4-3.
“Just work ethic,” said Jewell, when asked about Merritt’s identity. “We ‘re trying to build around that: ‘Nothing given; Everything worked for’, that’s our motto right now and it seems to be working for us these past few games.”
Merritt outshot Vernon 42-33 with Berger posting his 14th win of the season. Cents’ LW Stephan Seeger was third star with 2A.
Vernon’s Ethan King had a solid showing for the Cents. The 6-foot-7 d-man just signed after being released by the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“He’s good, he’s a big body and he’s good in the dee zone,” said Bell, of King. “In practice, he’s virtually impossible to get around because his stick’s two miles around. He’s a good guy at the rink and in the room.”
Merritt forwards Tyler Ward and Michael Regush will join Taylor on Team West in the CJHL Prospects Game Wednesday in Cornwall, Ont.
Ward, 17, is committed to the University of Denver Pioneers for 2018-19. Regush, 18, is set to play for New York’s Cornell Big Red in September.
The Vipers entertain the 28-16-1-0 Powell River Kings Saturday night.