Extreme underdogs after being bounced from the Okanagan Mainline playoffs by Kamloops and losing two regulars to injuries, the Watkin Motors Vipers are hardly holding a pity party.
Instead, the gritty Snakes pulled off a major upset Thursday morning, shading the Strathcona Warriors of Edmonton 3-2 to open the 43rd annual Coca-Cola Invitational Pee Wee Hockey Tournament at Civic Arena.
With Ben King and Cory Lazar on injured reserve, the Vipers summoned Nic Teale from the Nixon Wenger Pee Wee Tier 2s and Jacob Boden from Atom Development.
Somebody forgot to tell Teale he was supposed to be a stand-in and not a standout. Teale hustled down the right side wall and beat Warriors’ tender Ethan Kruger with a wrister for the winner with 7:46 remaining. Lucas Zubrod and Tanner Brown earned assists.
The Warriors, who lead their league back home with just two losses, pressed hard for the equalizer but the Vipers played relentless defence in front of a superb Kobe Grant.
Forward Coletyn Boyarski was the Vipers’ poster boy for shot blocking. His body will today resemble a Disneyland map after getting in front of three blasts late in the game.
He went down to stop a sure goal with his shinpad and then seconds later, took a slapper off the foot. Shortly after, Boyarski faced a rocket by big Jake Lee from the left point, taking it in the arm.
“Those were all for the team,” smiled Boyarski, an 11-year-old Hillview Elementary student. “We were passing the puck well in the offensive zone, but there’s always room for improvement. We wanna get a medal and have a good ending to our season.”
Strathcona, who won the Jasper tournament earlier this season, went in front when Cole Dubinsky converted from Sean Ogundiya, at 5:12 of the opening period.
Rowan Miller equalized four minutes into the second period, from Lachlan O’Keefe, and Vernon went ahead seven minutes later when Boyarski clicked, from Zubrod and Brown.
Strathcona levelled the score with 4:38 left in the period with captain Carter Chorney’s goal, assisted by Ethan Sochatsky.
“We just weren’t skating or moving our feet like we usually do,” said Chorney. “The ice is a bit different, it’s sticky. They were getting their shots and going wide on our d-men. We can play better.”
Chorney, who turned 13 last week, captained his zone to a gold medal in the recent Alberta Winter Games in Canmore/Banff. He was joined in the Games by teammates Bruce MacGregor and Jaxsen Wyatt. All three, along with Lee, attend the Vimy Ridge Hockey Academy in Edmonton.
Vernon captain Eric Noren, a 12-year-old Beairsto student, praised Teale and Boden for sparking the Viper attack.
“We had some APs and I thought they showed good energy and everybody else followed,” said Noren. “I had a good meal last night and got lots of rest so I was ready for this game. We were good with our 1-1-2 forecheck where the first guy goes in hard and the second guy goes to the wing.
“We were getting into the shooting lanes and it’s all about sacrifice for the team. Our goals coming in were to compete and play hard with a desire to win. This is our last tournament and our last weekend and winning a medal is the game-plan.”
In Game 2, Josh Zary pocketed a deuce as the Nanaimo Clippers grounded the Warman Wildcats of Saskatchewan 7-4.
Brandon Rogers, Trey Boylan, Luke Schlitz, Josh Parkin and Aaron Marsh also scored for the Clippers, who got two helpers from Liam Moody.
Austin Lamotte produced 2+2 for the Wildcats, singles going to Kyrell Sopotyk and Luke Reid.
Brendan Lee scored with 12 seconds to play in overtime as Seattle Junior A1 edged the Prince George Cougars 3-2 Thursday afternoon.
Dylan Herzog assisted on the winner and supplied the other two Seattle snipes. Jacob Gendron of the Cougars forced the extra session with 2.4 seconds remaining, from Evan Crobar and James Lalikeas. Matthew Marotta also scored for Prince George, who trailed 2-0 after one period.
Minor official Cal Ford was awarded Thursday night the Rienie Holland Memorial Award for outstanding longtime service to the tournament.
Edmonton Knights of Columbus Lancers battled Calgary Blackfoot Chiefs, Vernon went up against Warman in the feature game and Nanaimo tangled with Strathcona in later Thursday games.
Edmonton faces Seattle at 8 a.m. today, while Calgary plays Prince George at 10:15 a.m., Warman meets Strathcona at 12:30 p.m., Vernon goes up against Nanaimo at 3 p.m., Calgary takes on Seattle at 5:30 and Prince George squares off against Edmonton in the 8:00 late nighter. The semifinals go Saturday at 12:30 and 2:45 p.m. with the Amy Myles Memorial A final Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Vernon last won the Coke Classic in 2008 when they shut down Swift Current 8-0.