With four points through 18 games, Riley Brandt is hardly rating any all-star votes in the B.C. Hockey League.
The Vernon Viper disturbance specialist, however, brings a number of intangibles quickly making him a fan favourite at Kal Tire Place.
Brandt did just about everything except win the intermission frisbee toss as the Vipers dispatched the visiting Merritt Centennials 7-3 before 1,500 fans Wednesday night.
The Trail product, who turns 18 in two weeks, tossed several heavy checks, set up Brandon Wagner’s goal, retreived the puck after Johnny Coughlin netted his first BCHL snipe, loaned his stick to goalie Danny Todoyschuk with the Cents pressing and used some sick moves before being denied by Merritt rookie net detective Anthony Pupplo in tight.
Brandt bowled over Pupplo on the play, earning an interference minor. Seconds after serving the penalty, he picked up the puck and sped down the right wing before feeding Wagner.
Brandt, a thick 5-foot-7, 185-pounder, earned the Fortis Energy Player of the Game as Vernon (14-7-1-2) grabbed a share of second place in the Interior Division with the West Kelowna Warriors.
“My linemates (Linden Hora the other winger)were helping me out a lot there and I tried to do my best to help the team succeed and I thought I had one of my best games of the season,” said Brandt, who split last year between the BCHL Trail Smoke Eaters and the KIJHL Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
“Willy (former coach Jason Williamson) told me there was a spot open for me, but I still had to earn my way in here and thankfully, I’m glad I did because our team’s doing really good.
“Every line was going tonight. Everybody contributes. That’s the only way you’re gonna get a championship out of a hockey team is if you’ve got lines from one to four and all six dee going. Our goalies have been phenomenal and everybody is pitching their part and that’s the key to our success.”
Vernon was without head coach/GM Mark Ferner, who was away dealing with the death of his brother, Darrell. Assistants Kevin Kraus and Eric Godard managed the bench.
Darrell Ferner, who was 59, lost a short battle with a rare form of cancer in Vancouver. He amassed 125 points and 230 penalty minutes with the Major Junior Kamloops Chiefs in the 1975-76 season. He was drafted in the 14th round by the Calgary Cowboys of the World Hockey Association in ‘75.
Liam Finlay, Coughlin, and Luke Voltin gave the Snakes a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.
“It felt good,” said Coughlin, of his goal. “It’s been a little while. It was a good play by (Thomas) Aldworth. He hit me in the slot and it just went in the back of the net.”
Aldworth actually fooled everybody taking a pass from Liam Coughlin and looking off a wide open T.J. Dumonceaux in the mid-slot, skating 10 more feet and spotting Johnny Coughlin.
The pesky Cents closed to within a goal by pocketing powerplay snipes from blueliner Jake Clifford and Nick Fidanza six minutes apart in the second period. Viper forwards Colton McCarthy and Aldworth responded with goals six minutes apart before the period ended. McCarthy was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce as Luke Shiplo’s point shot caromed off the end boards in front.
Cole Chorney connected from the left side 5:43 into the final frame for Merritt, but Wagner and Voltin added insurance down the stretch.
The Cents, who outshot the Vipers 39-34, dipped to fourth place, two points back of Vernon and West Kelowna. The Penticton Vees are runaway leaders with 45 points.
Merritt, playing without four regulars, including high-scoring James Neil, weren’t quite as gritty or determined as head coach Luke Pierce expects in what was entertaining pond hockey most of the night.
“I didn’t like our first period very much, but I thought we fought back alright,” said Pierce, a former Viper. “The fourth goal was a bit of a killer. It was a lucky break, but you work for your breaks and they did a lot of little things right and we were trying to be too fancy at times and just couldn’t create a bounce.”
Cents’ captain Sam Johnson, who hails from Okotoks, Alta., said it was frustrating outshooting Vernon 39-34 and falling behind early. The 20-year-old d-man, who was sporting a nasty shiner on his left eye and a cut across his face after taking a high stick in practice, says the Cents need to solidify their identity.
“We are a hard-working team. We’ve still got some things to work out so we can string together some wins. Everybody’s gonna have to buy in that everyone’s here for a reason. We all have our own specific skillset that they bring to the table and some guys need to starting bringing that.”
Voltin’s deuce pushed him to six on the season as he keeps getting better on a unit with Finlay and Jagger Williamson.
“My linemates and I are just clicking right now and playing hard, battling and getting pucks to the net,” said the New Jersey-born left winger.
Voltin, who takes ribbing from his Canadian teammates when he wears American flag dress socks, says the Vipers are an unselfish bunch.
“It’s a team, it’s our locker room, everybody has to pitch in. We don’t have a first through fourth line. Ferner says everybody has to play the same and that’s the way we try to play.”
Voltin, Johnny Coughlin, Kenny Citron, Liam Coughlin, Trevor Fidler and Aldworth celebrated American Thanksgiving at the home of Viper billets Rick and Lynn Chisholm.
The Vipers visit the Salmon Arm Silverbacks tonight and host the Smoke Eaters Saturday night. Salmon Arm and Trail share last place, six points back of Merritt. Salmon Arm traded 18-year-old d-man Bennett Morrison to the Chilliwack Chiefs for future considerations Wednesday.
SNAKE BITES: Finlay and Williamson worked a gorgeous 2-on-1 for the opening goal, 3:32 after Galina Labun nailed the national anthem…Kraus has three wins and one OT loss as head coach. He will run the show this weekend…Todosychuk improved to 6-2, making several clutch saves…F Blaine Caton was a healthy scratch for the Vipers, while D Riley Guenther is sidelined with an MCL sprain. F Mackenzie Bauer remains on IR with a sports hernia…Viper phyisotherapist Lon Fraser won the 50-50 jackpot of $650.