Morning Star Staff/Black Press Sports
Down to nine healthy forwards and playing their third game in less than 48 hours, the Vernon Vipers scraped out a point by losing 4-3 in overtime to the Chilliwack Chiefs before 2,800 fans Sunday night at Prospera Centre.
It was the sixth straight time Chilliwack had gone to overtime in the B.C. Hockey League. The Chiefs clipped the West Kelowna Warriors 3-2 Saturday night with Jake Larson converting the winner at 3:32 of the first OT period.
Vernon gave up four goals in the third period in a 5-3 loss to the Cowichan Valley Capitals before 800 fans Saturday night at Island Savings Centre in Duncan.
Viper forwards Anthony Latina and Colton McCarthy were assessed double game misconducts and fighting majors at the buzzer in Duncan. Both players missed the game in Chilliwack with one-game suspensions.
“We had one bad period (in Cowichan) out of nine so it was a pretty good weekend,” said Viper assistant coach Kevin Kraus. “We have to learn, especially down the stretch, how to put teams away.”
With 2:25 left in three-on-three overtime in Chilliwack, Brandon Tkachuk put a puck on net from the top of the left faceoff circle. Viper goalie Danny Todosychuk couldn’t control the rebound, letting it drop into the blue paint.
Brandon Potomak had the first crack at it, but couldn’t poke it in. Winfield product Kurt Black followed up, popping the puck past Todosychuk for his 15th of the season.
With Vernon d-man Luke Shiplo in the box and Chilliwack on the power play, Jordan Kawaguchi worked off the right-wing boards and feathered a pass across the goal-mouth to Connecticut kid Craig Puffer, who punched the puck past Todosychuk at 9:27, collecting his team-leading 25th of the year for a 1-0 lead.
The Vipers turned up the heat and owned the middle frame. Looking like they were stuck in molasses, the Chiefs lost every race and puck battle to the speedy Vipers, who hemmed the Chiefs into their own zone and fired 20 pucks at Chiefs’ keeper David Jacobson.
“I think it was more about what we weren’t doing than what they were doing,” said Chief forward Jake Hand. “They did a few things to adjust to our style, and I think at times we just got a bit lackadaisical.”
Vernon tied the game at 1-1 at 9:30 on a curious goal. A Viper threw the puck into the goal mouth, where Jacobson couldn’t find it. Vernon had four whacks before Shiplo buried his fifth.
The Vipers (31-16-1-3) struck again in the final minute of period two when a Johnny Coughlin wrister from the left point evaded Jacobson through a screen of skaters, giving the Snakes a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The Vipers seemed to get the insurance they needed 70 seconds into the final frame when Riley Brandt skated unchecked into the slot and rifled a shot over Jacobson’s glove for his 10th of the year.
The Chiefs (30-16-1-3) got their chance to climb back into it when Vernon ran into penalty trouble. With Mackenzie Bauer already in the box for interference, Mitchell Oliver got his stick up on Chilliwack forward Luke McColgan.
A double minor for high sticking gave the Chiefs a 5-on-3 advantage for 77 seconds and Dennis Cholowski made the Vipers pay. The rookie blueliner took a feed from Hand and, from the high slot, lazered a wrist shot over Todosychuk’s glove.
The Chiefs still had 2:35 in power play time remaining, and came close to tying on a McColgan one-timer from the slot, but Vernon dodged the bullet and resumed their even-strength dominance.
Jacobson was forced to make a spectacular save with time winding down, lunging backwards Dominik Hasek-style with his stick to swat the puck away from Liam Coughlin. And when Jacobson was pulled for an extra attacker with one minute to go, the stage was set for Hand’s last-minute dramatics.
“Without his saves we don’t get the win tonight,” said Hand.
Puffer got the assist on Hand’s equalizer, with 39 seconds remaining. He threw a centering pass into the goal-mouth, where Hand chipped it over Todosychuk’s left shoulder to force overtime.
“I was just going hard to the net and felt some pressure from behind as I got hooked,” said Hand. “I was just trying to get my stick on the puck and luckily it went in.”
In Duncan, the Vipers got two goals from T.J. Dumonceaux (23rd, 24th) and Jagger Williamson (5th). Sean Harrison supplied the winner, his 21st, with 6:25 to play and added an empty-netter with 23 seconds left, for the Caps (19-28-2-2).
SNAKE BITES: F Blaine Caton (took hit to head in Duncan) and F Luke Voltin (ankle sprain) sat out Sunday…The Vipers may summon some affiliate help tonight when they visit the Penticton Vees…Vernon has 66 points, 10 ahead of the Merritt Centennials and Salmon Arm Silverbacks. West Kelowna is one point back in fifth…The Vipers host Salmon Arm Friday night and entertain the second-overall Nanaimo Clippers Saturday night….The Vees lost 3-0 Sunday in Port Alberni.