It was Game 45 on a Wednesday night in late January. Doesn’t get any sleepier than that on the Vernon Vipers’ B.C. Hockey League schedule.
Thanks to a magical powerplay and some clutch stops by Danny Todoyschuk, the Vipers escaped with a 4-3 pedestrian win over the Merritt Centennials before 1,650 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Vernon was without four regulars and Merritt six, but both teams had enough core players to create enough offence. The Vipers played just well enough for their 30th win, while the Cents certainly deserved a point, if not two.
Anthony Latina, with his 13th of the year, Thomas Aldworth, with his team-high 35th and Liam Coughlin, with his 19th, converted with Vernon on the man advantage.
Michael Roberts, who first played in the BCHL for the Vipers in 2011, was summoned from the Junior B Revelstoke Grizzlies and netted the winner, on a scorching wrister from the right hash marks, with 5:16 remaining.
“We were just doing the little details, chipping pucks and laying the body,” said Viper winger Liam Coughlin, named first star. “A lot of guys are injured and it was good that Michael went short side, cheese; that was amazing.”
Zak Bowles and Jake Clifford, on a breakaway, gave the Cents a 2-1 lead in the second period before Aldworth levelled the score 2:10 into the third. Michael Ederer scored off a wild scramble with 3:50 left, making it 4-3. The Cents pulled Anthony Pupplo for an extra attacker but couldn’t beat Todoyschuk while also having a few shots blocked by defencemen in tight.
Aldworth, who is third in league snipes, connected after an all-planet behind the back pass by Coughlin 30 seconds into a powerplay. Everybody in the building figured Coughlin was going to shoot.
“I know he’s (Aldworth) always gonna be there and I seen him out of the corner of my eye,” said Coughlin. “I could have shot it but I know if I go to him, it’s probably gonna go in. The goalie probably didn’t think it was gonna go over there either.”
Todoyschuk grabbed a hammer from the trainer’s room to repair his mask after absorbing a wicked slapper from former Moncton Wildcat left winger Stephan Seeger in the late going.
“Danny played unbelievable,” said Coughlin. “He kept us in the game with some huge saves. That was a cannon shot (by Seeger) and a big save.”
Overtime seemed like a fair way to decide this tilt until Cents’ captain Gavin Gould inadvertently clipped T.J. Dumonceaux in the face with his stick along the sidewall with 8:13 to play.
Coughlin broke the tie with Liam Finlay and d-man Luke Shiplo assisting. Roberts, who has nine goals in eight games with Revelstoke, cruised down the right wing and fooled Pupplo for his 13th career BCHL snipe 2:27 later.
Clifford, a defenceman out of Cleveland who has a scholarship to Arizona State University in Tempe locked up, figured the clock beat the Cents in the end.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Clifford, who has eight goals. “That powerplay goal kind of set us back and then they got another one. We kind of ran out of time. If we had a couple more minutes, I feel we would have tied it up. We were buzzing, that’s for sure.”
The Cents and West Kelowna Warriors share third spot with 50 points. The Vipers are a dozen points behind Penticton with 13 games left until the post-season.
“We have to keep working smart and use our creativity,” said Clifford. “All the teams in our division are good. We have a lot skill this year and as long as we keep working like we did tonight, the wins will start coming.”
Vernon won its ninth straight at home missing red-hot Colton McCarthy (concussion), Luke Voltin (ankle sprain), Mackenzie Bauer (concussion) and Jagger Williamson (foot). Roberts and Okanagan Major Midget Rocket Levi Johnson filled the void nicely.
“The pre-game message was just play a simple hockey game,” said Viper captain Riley Guenther, chosen third star for a solid showing on the back end. “We had a good effort in Merritt (Saturday night win) and we were looking to keep that work ethic up tonight and I don’t think we did a great job of that, but we pulled through and found a way to win so that says a lot about our group.”
Guenther said the Vipers were sloppy in their own zone, but got serious help from Todoyschuk (10-4).
The Vipers host the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Friday night. Salmon Arm lost 1-0 to the host Penticton Vees Wednesday night to stay four points back of Merritt in the Interior Division playoff race.
A late first period tally from superstar rookie Tyson Jost was all the Vees needed before 2,368 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The shutout win extends the Vees’ win streak to four as they now face a weekend doubleheader with the last-place Trail Smoke Eaters
Hunter Miska made 19 saves for his BCHL-best fifth shutout on the season.Penticton was shut down 3-0 by Salmon Arm Jan. 3. The Silverbacks dropped their third straight.
Jost fired a bullet into the top corner at 16:19. Gabe Bast skipped the puck across to Jost and as it bounced, Jost snapped the puck over the arm of Silverback goalie Angus Redmond for his 18th of the season. Jost was thwarted earlier in the period, when another one of his hard shots smoked the crossbar.
SNAKE BITES: Rookie F Linden Hora, looking for his first goal, struck the far post with a rocket midway through the second…Todosychuk stretched his right leg out to stymie Gould at the first-period buzzer and later stuffed New York sniper John Schiavo in tight…Clifford outraced Aldworth for his breakaway goal after Gould freed up the puck inside the Viper blueline…Bowles, a Kelowna product, has three goals in eight games since being traded by the Alberni Valley Bulldogs…Vernon visits Salmon Arm Saturday night…Finlay had two assists.