Black Press Sports
The Vernon Vipers will spend Christmas sixth overall in the 17-team B.C. Hockey League after a 3-2 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters before 1,265 fans Saturday night at Cominco Arena.
With Santa in the house, the Teddy Bear toss, a Toy Drive, and the largest crowd of the year, Jesse Lansdell spoiled the party, scoring 5:59 into the third period to break a 2-2 tie and give the Snakes a big Interior Division victory.
Vernon improved to 18-13-3-2, a whopping 16 points behind the division-leading Penticton Vees, who are ranked No. 6 in Canada at 28-6-1. The Snakes get 11 days off before hosting the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Thursday, Dec. 29 at Kal Tire Place.
“It was pretty tight checking, it went back-and-forth,” said Vernon head coach Mark Ferner. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. We played last night (tied Merritt Centennials 3-3 in double overtime and got home at 1:30 a.m.) and they were sitting here waiting for us. Not a lot going on in the first period, we were fortunate to get the lead and we knew that they were going to continue to come.”
A point shot from Cameron Trott was deftly redirected at the top of the crease by Austin Adamson right to Lansdell who swept it into the open net as the Vipers extended their undefeated streak to four games and handed Trail its fourth straight loss. The Vipers hold a six-point lead on the Smokies and West Kelowna Warriors, who share third place.
“It’s tough to lose one going into the Christmas break, especially like that, a close game,” said Smoke Eater forward Braeden Tuck. “It’s important to bear down mentally, and get those wins, but we can’t do anything about it now.”
Tuck was robbed by Vipers’ goalie Darion Hanson on a couple occasions Saturday night.
“Confidence is huge in this league, especially as a rookie it can sometimes take a while to find your groove,” added Tuck, an 18-year-old Calgary product. “So a big game against Penticton, hopefully I can use that as a breakout game.”
The Vipers opened the scoring when Steven Jandric (18th) tipped a Riley Brandt shot through the legs of Trail goalie Zach Dyment with three minutes to play in the first period. Brandt stayed in his hometown after the game.
The period ended with a scrum in the Vipers’ end that saw four misconducts handed out to Conner Clouston and Cooper Watson of the Vipers, and Ethan Martini and Ryan Moon of the Smokies.
Trail tied it at 8:36 of the middle frame when Luke Santerno sent Kale Howarth in on a partial breakaway and Howarth sniped a shot past Hanson for his 21st goal of the season.
The Vipers regained the lead with just over five minutes left in the middle stanza on the power play. Dyment made a huge pad save off a point-blank shot from Brandt, but the puck came back to the point and d-man Michael Ufberg wired a low wrister that found its way through traffic and the pads of Dyment for a 2-1 Viper lead.
Trail pressed hard in the third period, and Connor Brown-Maloski tied it at 2-2, taking a pass in the slot from Moon and one-timing it by Hanson 5:39 in.
“I lost the faceoff and my wingers did a good job of pressuring the d-men, forced a turnover, and I just went to the net, and Moon just found me in the slot,” said Brown-Maloski. However, 20 seconds later Lansdell netted the winner on his third of the year.
The Smokies pressed but could not beat Hanson the rest of the way, outshooting Vernon 16-7 in the period, and 31-26 in the game. In the end it was a combination of a good Viper penalty kill and poor execution on the Smokies power play that hampered their offence.
“They have some guys over there that we certainly have to be aware of,” said Ferner. “We know they like the seams, but our goaltending was good, again making sure that we were managing the puck and blocking shots. We adjusted a couple things to try to disrupt their entries, because they like to score off the rush.”
With one win, four losses, and two OT defeats this month, Trail is 3-for-26 with the extra-man, and 0-for-8 in their two losses to Vernon.
“We’ve been having trouble breaking out, Vernon is a pretty aggressive team, and we just struggled a little bit and couldn’t get it set up,” said Brown-Maloski, a four-year veteran out of Kamloops.”
Trail was 0-for-4 on the power play, while Vernon was 1-for-3. Ufberg was the game’s first star, with Howarth taking second star honours, and Jandric third star.
Ferner says the red-hot Vipers, who lost just once in seven December dates, go into the holiday break feeling pretty good about things.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re healthy,” said Ferner. “We weren’t having the success we thought this group could have, but we stuck to it and I gotta give all the credit to the kids. They work hard and they’re committed to what’s important.”