Morning Star Staff
Captain Riley Brandt marked his 20th birthday by scoring twice as the Vernon Vipers stuffed the Trail Smoke Eaters 6-2 in B.C. Hockey League action before 1,878 fans Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
Brandt, a Trail product, played in his 165th regular-season BCHL game. He turned 20 Monday and likes what he sees of the Snakes as they cross the midway mark at 16-13-3-1.
Vernon hosts the Salmon Arm Silverbacks tonight and then visit the Merritt Centennials and Trail Smoke Eaters this weekend before rating an 11-day Christmas break.
“It doesn’t even feel like Christmas is coming because no one’s talking about going home; everybody wants to be here,” said Brandt, who has seven goals.
“It’s a lot different than last year. Everybody seems to be gelling together; we have some new guys who are fitting in and everybody’s starting to click and good things are going to happen.”
Vernon has 17 of their remaining 28 games at home, including eight dates in January and seven in February.
Defenceman Cooper Watson, who landed in the Snakepit in late September from the Madison Capitals of the USHL, also bagged a deuce, both on the powerplay, as the Vipers moved into sole possession of second place in the Interior Division, two points ahead of the Smokies.
Watson, 20, is committed to the NCAA Division 1 Michigan Tech Huskies. He also had one assist, giving him six points in three games for Player of the Week.
Jagger Williamson and d-man Connor Clouston supplied singles for the Vipers, who held period leads of 3-1 and 3-2.
Kale Howarth and Ryan Moore replied for the 16-16-2 Smokies, who were outshot 38-28. Darion Hanson (4-1) took the win, Zach Dyment (10-12) the loss.
“Vernon came out and finished every hit, and it led to turnovers and scoring chances,” said Trail assistant coach Curtis Toneff. “We didn’t have the mindset that usually makes us successful. We’ll have to regroup and rebound against Penticton on Wednesday and Vernon on Saturday.”
Watson is the first defenceman to win a BCHL Player of the Week honour this season. He believes the Vipers have the roster to do something special come the playoff dance.
“We stuck to our game-plan (versus Trail) and did our systems right and I think it paid off,” said Watson. “One of the biggest things for us is we’re starting to bond as a group and I think we’re starting make a championship team here.”
Brandt says the entire lineup is earning their shower heading into the holiday rest.
“From start to finish, we were good. They got that equalizer in the first and we didn’t stop performing. It was a good effort by everybody, top to bottom. We worked hard and were fortunate to get the win.”
The West Kelowna Warriors upended the Merritt Centennials 4-2 in other Saturday play.
West Kelowna shares fourth place with the Cents. Salmon Arm is one digit back.
A pair of early third-period goals by Russia helped them defeat Canada West 5-3 Monday night in Day 2 play at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta.
Russia came out quickly grabbing a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes thanks to efforts from Mikhail Bitsadze and Alexey Lipanov.
Canada West countered with markers from Carter Turnbull (Powell River Kings, BCHL) and Will Koop (Steinbach Pistons, MJHL) before the session was five minutes old.
SNAKE BITES: Viper grad Darren Nowick scored twice as the Missouri Mavericks (8-9-1-2) lost 4-3 to the Cincinnati Cyclones in a ECHL shootout Saturday night. Nowick, who played college hockey for the Northern Michigan Wildcats, has 6-10-16 in 23 games. The California product helped the Vipers win the 2010 Royal Bank Cup in Dauphin, Man…Vernon native Riley Spraggs has 4-7-11 in 15 games with the 5-10 Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Pro League. Spraggs, a grad of Lindenwood University Lions in St. Louis, was a late cut from the ECHL Colorado Eagles, where Vernon’s Cole Sanford signed.