A year ago, the Wenatchee Wild played keep-a-way with the Vernon Vipers as a large B.C. Hockey League crowd watched in awe at Kal Tire Place.
The Wild resembled a combination of the Harlem Globetrotters and Penn & Teller as they schooled the Vipers 8-1. It was 5-0 after 20 minutes.
The Wild are just as quick and talented this year. They make their only regular-season visit to Vernon Friday night and Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner knows exactly what to expect from the No. 10-ranked team in the 132-team Canadian Junior League.
“I just watched them (on video) put up 61 shots on Surrey (9-1 win Saturday),” said Ferner. “They are hard on the puck, they’re fast and they’re skilled. We will have our hands full.”
Wenatchee leads the 17-team BCHL at 38-8-4. Anthony Yamnitsky set a new franchise mark Saturday for shutout time, going 181:57 between goals allowed. The Wild have rang up 252 goals in 50 games with St. Louis product Charlie Combs tops in the league with 45 snipes.
Brendan Harris of Las Vegas has 21 goals and 85 points, while New York native Troy Conzo sits at 15 goals and 61 points. Both players are 5-foot-9 buzzsaws.
Winnipeg’s Colin Burston has 23 goals and 57 points, while Colorado’s AJ Vanderbeck is fifth on the team with 35 goals and 56 points. The Wild are deep and have 11 players with NCAA scholarships locked up.
“Their goal is to get 20 shots in the first period and I’ve told our guys that we will need a good start,” said Ferner.
Viper fiery captain Riley Brandt may be ready to return from injured reserve but Ferner may delay his return with the playoffs on the horizon.
Vernon is a solid second in the Interior Division at 27-16-5-4 with six games remaining. The Snakes entertain the West Kelowna Warriors Saturday at 6 p.m.
Vernon’s road warrior glory came to a halt Tuesday night after two months. The Vipers, who last lost away from home Dec. 7 in Penticton, fell 3-0 to the Merritt Centennials before 350 fans at Nicola Valley Arena.
The Snakes are 12-11-2-3 on the road, fourth best in the BCHL.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy or urgency,” said Ferner. “It’s tough game to play: on a Tuesday and it’s like you’re playing in a pinball machine (tiny rink). You flip the puck out and go get it.”
Jake Berger recorded 30 saves for his first shutout of the season. Berger, a Minnesota product, is 17-15-0-2. Ty Taylor, of Richmond, dropped to 12-10-0-2 while making 39 saves.
“It was definitely a team effort,” said Merritt captain Brett Jewell, of Vernon. “He’s (Berger) played a few games like that and he can steal the game for us, but we played 0ne of our best 60-minute games of the year defensively and offensively. We controlled most of the play and when they did come at us hard, he (Berger) was there.”
Roadrunner Zach Risteau buried a wrister right under the bar from the bottom of the left circle at 7:50 of the first period for his 24th of the season. Cade Gleekel and Rylan Van Unen drew assists.
The Cents upped their lead 76 seconds later when Tyler Ward snapped home his 13th of the season after Taylor made a huge save. Michael Regush and Nicholas Wick earned helpers. Ward and Regush were teammates with Taylor on team West at the recent CJHL Prospects Game in Cornwall.
The Vipers came close to cutting the deficit as red-hot Ryan Brushett rang a shot off the cross bar.
Van Unen added insurance late in the third with Nick Fidanza and Chase Bell pocketing assists on his fifth of the year.
Viper d-man Sol Seibel went toe to toe with left winger Zach Zorn in a spirited second-period fight which ended inside the net, for his second BCHL scrap.
Merritt improved to 20-20-8-2, good for a share of fourth place with the Warriors, 5-3 losers to the Langley Rivermen before 735 fans at Royal LePage Place Tuesday night.
The top two teams receive first-round playoff byes.
The top five teams from the Interior, and either the fifth seed from the Mainland Division or the sixth seed from the Interior, also qualify for the post-season. This crossover spot will play the third-seed Interior team in the first round.
Surrey is fifth in the Mainland with 35 points, while the Salmon Arm Silverbacks are sixth in the Interior with 42 points. The Silverbacks and Trail Smoke Eaters tied 1-1 in double overtime before 1,045 fans Tuesday night at the Shaw Centre.
Former Viper d-man Carter Stephenson scored for Salmon Arm, while Connor Brown-Maloski converted for Trail.
Meanwhile, Gabe Bast could not have scripted his return to the Penticton Vees lineup any better. The 20-year-old, playing in his first game since late November, scored at 23 seconds of the first overtime as the Vees recorded a 4-3 comeback win over the Smokies before 2,712 fans Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Bast, who’s been limited to just six games this season and 15 in the last two years, roofed a cross-crease pass from Nicholas Jones on the opening shift of overtime.
Owen Sillinger forced OT after scoring inside the final minute of regulation on a powerplay. James Miller and Ty Amonte also scored for the Vees and Jones picked up two assists. Penticton is two points away from clinching their sixth consecutive Interior Division regular-season pennant.
Kale Howarth, Ryan Moon and Korbyn Chabot scored for the Smoke Eaters, who sit third at 24-22-4-1, three points ahead of West Kelowna and Merritt.