Blocking shots. Solid goaltending. Taking the body. Hustle at both ends.
Imagine if the Vernon Vipers were at 100 per cent.
The Vipers overcame a flu bug that limited the team to 12 skaters in practice during the week, and held on for an emotional 3-2 win over the West Kelowna Warriors in B.C. Hockey League action in front of 2,078 fans Friday at Kal Tire Place.
“It was a pretty gutsy effort against a good hockey team,” said Vipers head coach Mark Ferner of his team’s first win in three tries against their Highway 97 rivals.
The two teams will meet three times in four days in February, including back-to-back 11 a.m. starts on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 16 and 17, in West Kelowna and Vernon, respectively.
Vernon’ victory, combined with the Trail Smoke Eaters’ 6-4 home ice win Thursday over the Chilliwack Chiefs, left the Vipers two points ahead of the Smoke Eaters in the battle for the fourth and final Interior Division playoff spot.
The Vipers played in Trail Saturday. Each team has 13 games remaining.
Liam Finlay’s powerplay goal – a laser of a wrist shot into the top corner from the slot – with four minutes left in regulation time turned out to be the winner.
Finlay’s 13th goal gave Vernon a 3-1 lead but West Kelowna defenceman Rylan Yaremko made it 3-2 on a two-on-one with 1:50 remaining, setting the stage for a frantic final minute which saw the Vipers block three West Kelowna shots in front of goalie Andrew Shortridge, making his first start in three games due to a groin injury.
Shortridge, the game’s second star, who hadn’t practised in 10 days, and Warriors counterpart Matthew Greenfield were sensational all game, with West Kelowna outshooting Vernon 39-29, including 20-10 in the final period.
Greenfield stoned Fortis BC Energy player of the game Ben Butcher and Odeen Tufto twice each, and took away sure goals from Jimmy Lambert and Christian Cakebread.
Shortridge made his best save in the first minute of the third, with the score 2-1 Vernon, sliding over to get a skateblade on what looked like a sure tap-in goal for Jonathan Desbiens. Shortridge also robbed Quin Foreman twice and Brett Mennear.
Both goalies, however, had one goal each would like to have back.
Warriors defenceman Nicholas Rutigliano scored his fourth of the year at 7:07 with the teams playing four-on-four on what looked like a harmless wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that Shortridge got a piece of, but the puck still went in top-corner, stick-side.
The goal tied the game at 1-1.
Vipers forward Jagger Williamson, the game’s first star, ripped a slap shot from nearly the same spot that went five-hole on Greenfield at 17:24 of the second (Williamson’s sixth).
Riley Brandt gave Vernon a 1-0 lead with his 13th, snapping a wrist shot on a two-on-one past Greenfield at 4:55 of the first.
Brandt looked to have given the Vipers a 2-1 lead at 12:11 of the second with a powerplay marker that was called off right away by one referee, who then conferred with his three counterparts to officially rule no goal, stating Brandt interfered with Greenfield.
The Vipers were 1-7 with the man advantage, West Kelowna went 0-6.
“I thought tonight was one of our best games,” said Williamson. “Everyone was going, our defence was good and everyone was chipping pucks out.”
Following the final buzzer, Warriors forward Kyle Marino knocked down Shortridge, who was beginning to celebrate the win, leading to a skirmish.
It was Vernon’s second consecutive win over a team higher in the conference standings.
“I think it’s real good for the confidence,” said Ferner. “The Salmon Arm game (rallying from 5-1 down to win 10-5) was a different type of game. Late in the game here we had two huge blocks and those are the type of things that don’t show up on the score sheet but are so important for teams to be successful.”
West Kelowna remained tied for second in the division with Salmon Arm.
The Silverbacks lost 6-4 in Duncan to the Cowichan Valley Capitals Friday.
The Vipers will host Austria’s EC Red Bull Salzburg U20s in an international friendly exhibition Monday at 7 p.m. at Kal Tire Place.
Salzburg is 1-1 on their four-game BCHL tour, defeating West Kelowna 8-6 but losing 6-1 to Penticton. Their tour wraps up Wednesday in Victoria.