Visions of sugarplums danced through their heads Sunday afternoon at Kal Tire Place.
A stretch for sure but perhaps visions of sleeping in their own beds, eating home cooking and re-connecting with their loved ones, some 5,000 miles away, were clogging the minds of both the Vernon Vipers and Powell River Kings.
Neither team showed much zest until the Vipers, supercharged by Hunter Zandee, captain Colton McCarthy and Jagger Williamson, converted four times in the third period for a 5-3 B.C. Hockey League win before 1,700 fans.
Vernon goes into the 10-day Christmas break at 16-20-0-3, one digit ahead of the red-hot Trail Smoke Eaters for the fourth and final Interior Division playoff berth.
The Vipers are young, struggle to move the puck in transition and tend to turn the puck over at the most inopportune times. They have 19 games remaining and head coach/GM Mark Ferner has one card to fill with the Jan. 10 signing deadline looming.
“I don’t think anybody would argue it’s obviously been a little bit disappointing and frustrating for the kids as well,” said Ferner, who will scout the Mac’s Midget Tournament starting Boxing Day in Calgary.
“I know they wanna please and do well for the coaching staff and for our fans. I believe in this group. They’re a young team trying to find an identity and their way. Hopefully, the holidays will be good for us as they get to go home and enjoy their family and friends, re-charge their batteries and come back a new-look hockey team.”
Ferner said young players can get a little homesick a month or two before Christmas, especially when a team is losing more than winning.
“It’s nice we got a victory and send them home for the holidays on a winning note. I know it wasn’t an exciting game, but the kids found a way.”
It was a gritty win considering the Snakes were without sparkplugs Odeen Tufto (concussion), Riley Brandt (suspension) and Liam Finlay (in the press box after helping Team Canada West shade Russia 2-1 Saturday in the World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Cobourg, Ont.). Winger Jimmy Lambert was also out due to suspension.
The Kings (18-14-0-2) are third in the Island Division. They finished a three-game road trek which saw them lose 6-2 Saturday night in Salmon Arm.
Head coach/GM Kent Lewis, who is nearing 25 years with the Kings, is seeing the same troubles as Ferner.
“We’ve thrown a lot of points away and today is another example of throw away points,” said Lewis, who played for the Nanaimo Clippers and WHL Victoria Cougars back in the day. “A game before Christmas, you come to expect games like this. We’ve been very inconsistent. We have a lot of new guys and I think there are times when we’ve been very good, but the inconsistency throughout leaves me to have to ponder Jan. 10 quite seriously and make some changes which I’m gonna seriously look at because we’re not happy where we’re at with the group.”
Nanaimo, with Vernon buzzsaw Spencer Hewson (4-5-9) in his third year, tops the Island table at 24-12-0-1.
“If we’re playing the right way in our division, it’s a good hunt this year,” said Lewis. “There’s a lot of parity so it should be fun.”
McCarthy produced the winner at 14:02 of the third period when he converted a sweet pass from behind the net by Joe Sacco. Steven Jandric earned the secondary assist on McCarthy’s 17th goal of the season.
Christian Cakebread went top cheddar from a sharp angle to maker it 5-3 on a power play with 3:55 remaining. D-men Bo Pellah and Latrell Charleson drew the helpers. Cakebread has nine goals in 19 games since joining Vernon from the USHL.
McCarthy scored the only goal of the first period when he deflected a Jandric shot past Powell River goalie Jeff Smith. D-man Griffin James, who was named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game, pocketed the second assist.
The Kings equalized 40 seconds into the second period as Gavin Rauser fooled Andrew Shortridge with a wrister from just inside the left point. Mitchell Hawes and Chris Protopoulos collected assists.
Jeremy Leclerc put the Kings in front seven minutes later when he went short side for his seventh snipe of the season. Jeremy Leipsic and Nick Halagian got the assists.
The Vipers showed some extra energy by getting goals 2:02 apart in the third period from Zandee and Williamson.
Zandee banged in a rebound of a Williamson shot six minutes into the period for his sixth, while Williamson fired his fourth in tight on a gorgeous feed by Zandee.
Powell River answered right back with Jonny Evans registering his seventh on a low wrister, assisted by Halagian and Tristan Mullin. Vernon outshot Powell River 42-26.
The Vipers entertain the first-place Penticton Vees on New Year’s Day (7 p.m.). The Vees will welcome back projected NHL first-round draft picks Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro, while the Vipers will draw Finlay back in the lineup. Jost and Fabbro were also with Team Canada West.
SNAKE BITES: There were fights 63 seconds apart midway through the second period. Callum Volpe of the Vipers, playing forward, tangled with fellow rookie Andy Stevens behind the Kings’ net. Vernon D Darren Rizzolo danced with Curtis McCarrick in the Viper zone. Both scraps were draws…Vernon used Kamloops Junior B Storm F Keaton Gordon as an affiliate….McCarthy received nice applause for killing close to 45 seconds of a Viper penalty with a high flip puck over a d-man and then some tireless work in the corner against three Kings…Shortridge made a sweet save off Rauser, who swiped the puck off Brett Stapley deep inside the Viper end….Leipsic’s brother, Brendan, plays for the AHL Toronto Marlies. Brendan won the CHL scoring title with 49 goals and 120 points three years ago with the Portland Winterhawks…Viper grads Colton Sparrow (Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks) and Danny Todoyschuk (Grant MacEwan Griffins, Edmonton) were in the house on the weekend. Sparrow has 2-2-4 in 18 games in his junior year. Todoyschuk is 2-3-1 with a 3.23 GAA and .897 save percentage as a freshman. Ex-Viper G Kirby Halcrow is 7-6-5 with Portage College.