It is finally upon us.
Goose bumps ripped up the spines of the 2,800-plus fans, cowbells blared in the deafening arena and AC/DC blasted through the speakers as the Vernon Vipers took the ice for the first time at the Royal Bank Cup.
The Carleton Place Canadians spoiled the party as they knocked off the Vipers 3-2 in round-robin play of the National Junior A Hockey League tournament Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
“It’s tough, we wanted to get the tournament started on the right foot. It was a good, competitive, one-goal game; we got to put it behind us now,” said Vipers’ head coach and GM Jason Williamson.
The night began when Cam Sylven, the man who scored the 1990 Centennial Cup winning overtime goal at Civic Arena, dropped the puck in the ceremonial faceoff. The Vipers also donned commemorative jerseys, honouring each of their past six Canadian championship Vernon teams.
The Vipers fed off the ceremony; they came out like a pack of rabid horses.
The Snakes haven’t played in nearly a month and it showed. Everybody was finishing their checks, the passes were crisp and on point, and the maroon jerseys were a blur on the ice.
Tyler Povelofskie lowered the boom on Canadians’ defenceman Rowan Savidant at the 13-minute mark. The crushing blow led to an immediate scoring chance, but Guillaume Therien was sharp all night for Carleton.
Demico Hannoun was forechecking like a man possessed, forcing multiple turnovers.
The Vipers’ best chance in the first came when Colton Sparrow had the puck below the right faceoff circle. With the entire top half of the net to shoot at, he rang it off the bar.
The teams headed to the locker rooms after the first tied at zero. The Vipers outshot the Canadians 9-5.
Vipers’ co-MVP Dexter Dancs got called for high-sticking, six minutes into the second when the Vipers struck.
Dylan Chanter chipped the puck high off the glass, sending the Vipers on a rush.
“I noticed that their team looks for seams across the ice. I saw their d-man back tracking, I read it, picked it up and buried it,” said Sparrow.
Sparrow, the Vernon native, sniped one top-shelf, sending Kal Tire Place into a madhouse; it was a shock to see the roof still attached afterwards.
Sparrow was named Vernon’s player of the game.
“For us to be able to come back from giving up two shorthanded goals just proves what kind of team character we have here,” said Canadians’ head coach Jason Clarke.
Dylan Gareau tied it 47 seconds into the third, when he spun in the slot and wired it home from Brett D’Andrea. Gareau’s goal set the tone for a chaotic period.
The turning point occurred when Vipers’ defenceman caught Anthony Latina with his head down in the neutral zone. Bryan rocked his world on a hit which will be debated for the rest of the tournament.
“I thought the hit was a cheap shot; there is no room for that kind of hit,” said Clarke.
Bryan was slapped with a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the check.
“The refs said it was a late hit, they said they gave the penalty because of the injury,” said Williamson. “I did not think it was late.”
Latina laid on the ice for a few moments with his arms hopelessly in the air, eerily reminiscent to Eric Lindros after being demolished by Scott Stevens in the 1999-2000 NHL playoffs.
Unlike the Stevens hit, Bryan did not leave his feet or target the head.
“Josh finishes his checks with his shoulder all the time. I don’t think there was an intent to injure,” said Vipers’ captain Ryan Renz.
Latina was helped off the ice and did not return. His status for the Canadians’ game against the Dauphin Kings Sunday remains uncertain.
The Canadians’ powerplay iced it twice and gave up a scoring chance to the relentless attack of T.J. Dumonceaux while on the major.
Adam Lloyd capitalized for Carleton during the man advantage, as he banged a loose puck over the left pad of Austin Smith. It was Lloyd’s first of the postseason, coming from Luke Edwards.
It appeared as if the Canadians added another on the major, but it was quickly waved off by the officials.
This seemed to wake up the Vipers, as Dumonceaux won a battle at his blue line and was off to the races on a 2-on-1 rush, flanked by Hannoun.
Dumonceaux held onto the puck as long as he could before sending a blistering pass to Hannoun, who one-timed it home.
“The shorthanded ones are nice but I think our five-on-five play can get better. That’s one area where I think the rust showed,” said Williamson.
The Vipers had their chances to take the lead. Renz walked the line and stepped into a wrister that got deflected away from the net at the last second.
The line of Dancs, Michael McNicholas and Liam Coughlin was buzzing all night, creating lots of scoring chances.
The Canadians were too much as Vinny Post put the Snakes on ice, from Owen Stewart and Luke Edwards with four and a half minutes remaining.
Post snuck behind the defence, received the puck and patiently out-waited sprawling defenders and Smith for a yawning cage.
“We had some sustained pressure down low, we worked from the walls pretty good. Stewart made a great pass to me, I was in the right spot at the right time. I had to put that one in,” said Post.
The Vipers will have a day break to regroup and refocus as they take on the Yorkton Terriers Monday night.
Carleton will take on the Dauphin Kings (1-0) Sunday night.