The Vernon Vipers shaded the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-2 in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night before 2,402 fans at Kal Tire Place.
It was Parents Weekend and former captain Chris Crowell had his No. 18 retired in a pre-game ceremony, both events seemingly inspiring the short staffed Vipers to their second straight win over the Gorillas.
Vernon was without clutch forwards Odeen Tufto (leading scorer), Riley Brandt, Christian Cakebreak and Hunter Zandee, all sidelined with illness or concussion and representing 54 goals. Salmon Arm was missing veteran d-man Ryley Booth and forwards Carson Bolduc and Cam Couture.
The Silverbacks, trying to atone for a 10-5 loss two weeks ago at the Shaw Centre in a tilt they were leading 5-1, went ahead 2:17 after the national anthem when call-up Josh Latta sniped his first BCHL goal on a scramble. Assists went to Marcus Mitchell and Jared Turcotte. Latta, 17, leads the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League and the Vancouver NW Giants in points with 53.
D-man Kodi Schwarz, who was talking to college scouts after the game, made it 2-0 just 82 seconds later with a shot from the left hash marks, his fourth of the year, from Turcotte.
The Vipers responded when blueliner Mitchell Oliver’s wrister from the right point beat Angus Redmond with 13 seconds left in a hit to the head penalty to Cam Trott on Charlie Michalowski. Trott was also assessed a misconduct. D-man Darren Rizzolo earned the assist on Oliver’s third of the season.
Vernon levelled the score at 14:24 of the second period when Ben Butcher scored on a sweet wraparound to the right post for his eighth of the season. Liam Finlay, who took first star and the Fortis Energy Player of the Game, and Brett Stapley pocketed the helpers. Butcher’s father, Garth, a former NHLer, was in the building wearing a Viper jersey.
“We just talked about keeping it simple, making sure we’re playing within our systems and doing the right things,” said Butcher, who worked the corners and did the heavy lifting on a line with Finlay and Jagger Williamson. “We were going hard and everybody chipped in; it was a good effort by the team.
“Pretty unbelievable, on Parents Weekend being my last year in the league and all, getting the win in front of my dad was pretty special. We’ve got a lot of momentum here. See if we can get the win tomorrow and get another four points in PG (Wednesday night) and keep going from there.”
Ex-NHLer Joe Sacco was also at Kal Tire Place and watched his son, Joe, bury the winner at 3:31 from the right circle after a nice cross-ice feed by captain Colton McCarthy. It was Sacco’s eighth of the campaign.
Salmon Arm outshot Vernon 33-29 with Andrew Shortridge posting the win, his 16th, in a fast-paced, entertaining contest.
“It was a tough one; those 3-2 losses are tough on a team especially when you work hard,” said Salmon Arm left winger Mitch Skapsi, who played for current Viper head coach Mark Ferner as a rookie with the WHL Everett Silvertips in the 2012-13 season. “It was just one lucky bounce for them and they made it 3-2. It’s so frustrating because we had so many chances and we lose.
“We had a couple of players missing. No excuses. We still need to perform and everybody needs to play their role and hopefully we can tomorrow’s game. We had motivation since they showed us up in our barn and we were trying to do the same to them and it didn’t go in our favour.”
The teams meet again Saturday night at the Shaw Centre in front of an expected sellout on Hockey Day in Salmon Arm. The Silverbacks are third in the Interior Division, four points behind the West Kelowna Warriors, 7-1 winners over the Cowichan Valley Capitals in Duncan.
The Vipers hold down the fourth and final playoff berth with 45 points, five ahead of the idle Trail Smoke Eaters. Trail hosts the first-place Penticton Vees Saturday night. Nick Jones compiled 2+1 as the Vees shelled the Smokies 6-1 before 2,367 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Langley Rivermen clipped the Merritt Centennials 4-3 in double overtime with Vernon product Brett Jewell getting his 11th goal of the year for the Cents.
Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie Eddie Lack and his Salmon-Arm based goalie coach, Lyle Mast, were also in the house, as was Colorado Avalanche Director of Player Development Dave Oliver, of Vernon.
Please see Sunday’s Morning Star for further Viper coverage.