Bigger, faster, stronger and much better playing without the puck.
That sums up the West Kelowna Warriors, who grounded the Vernon Vipers 3-2 in B.C. Hockey League play Friday night before 1,747 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Only Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge, who was the best player on the ice, kept the game even remotely close. West Kelowna outshot Vernon 48-26, including a 21-10 margin in the opening 20 minutes.
Stephen Heslop went the distance in the Warriors net, making huge successive stops off Colton McCarthy and Riley Brandt with 7:26 left in the second period. Heslop was otherwise a spectator, facing just eight shots in each of the second and third periods.
Viper head coach Mark Ferner again saw a team unable to play a 200-foot game for a full 60 minutes.
“We’re disappointed,” said Ferner. “We knew they were a good team coming in, but you can’t expect to win hockey games when you give up 50 shots a night. We had a good talk in there and we need players that are committed to the right thing, willing to do things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. We need players that are willing to play in all three zones and tonight, we just didn’t have that. We didn’t have urgency and we didn’t have enough accountability, not only to what we were doing, but also to each other and what’s important.
“I like our group, don’t get me wrong, but tonight we were the lesser team by far. We’ve got some offensive minded guys, but you can score 30 goals at this level and that will translate to maybe five in college. But if you can’t play defence, you can’t play.”
West Kelowna captain Kyle Marino loved his team’s compete level as they improved to 8-5-0-2.
“We were down early, but there’s no quit in us. This was a big game and we needed it as a team and we weren’t gonna let this one go. They came pretty hard at the start and we weren’t ready for ‘em. As the game went on, we started playing playing better, getting pucks deep and taking care of the puck more.
“We’re still new as a group, we’ve got a lot of new guys and we’re a good team and we’re gonna get rolling pretty soon.”
On the Vipers, the Niagara Falls product said: “They’re a little bit smaller and a lot faster than they were last year. They’re a good team and it’s really hard to win in this building so we did a good job tonight.”
Jimmy Lambert (5th) and McCarthy (8th) staked the Vipers to a 2-0 lead just 2:01 after the national anthem. McCarthy and blueliner Bo Pellah pocketed assists on Lambert’s snipe, while Brandt and Lambert set up McCarthy.
Garret Forster responded for the Warriors with his sixth of the season 3:39 later on a nice 2-on-1 with Connor Sodergren.
West Kelowna equalized midway through the second period when leading scorer Liam Blackburn wired a short from the slot past Shortridge. Tanner Campbell fed Blackurn after Vernon d-man Mitchell Oliver blew a tire behind the net and lost the puck.
Jonathan Desbiens buried a howitzer from the high slot just 12 seconds into a interference penalty on Pellah. Campbell drew the assist with 33 seconds left in the second period.
“It was definitely a tough loss tonight. We had trouble playing in our zone, running around and we weren’t finding the man we were supposed to be covering,” said McCarthy, Viper captain. “We had a couple of lapses and that’s what cost us two points tonight.”
The Warriors are all alone in third spot in the Interior Division. The Vipers dipped to 8-7-0-1 and sole possession of fourth place.
Vernon product Colton Thibault earned 1+2 as the Salmon Arm Silverbacks grounded the Victoria Grizzlies 5-1. Salmon Arm is second at 9-3-2.
The Vipers hosted the Grizzlies (2-10-0-2) Saturday night. Vernon entertains Salmon Arm Wednesday night.
The league-leading Penticton Vees shut out the Powell River Kings 3-0. Penticton is 14-1.
The Merritt Centennials upended the Merritt Centennials 4-1 to move within three points of Vernon.