Competing for a job tends to bring the best out in an athlete. Add in the built-in rivalry of a B.C. Hockey League tilt between the Vernon Vipers and Salmon Arm SilverBacks, and even the exhibition season can offer a thrill a minute.
The Snakes and ‘Backs combined for five powerplay goals and a couple scraps, with the host Vipers eking out a 7-5 preseason win Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
Rookie forward Dallas Calvin led Vernon’s attack with two goals and two assists, including the opening snipe on a backdoor feed from linemate Demico Hannoun.
“He set me up pretty nicely for an open net, so I didn’t have to do much for that one,” smiled the 6-foot-5 Kootenay product, who racked up 31-43-74 in 40 games last season with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
“It’s always nice to get points, but it’s even better when you’re helping the team win.”
Second-year forward Logan Mick made it 2-0 early in the second period as he drove to the net and chipped the puck over netminder Adam Clark’s pad going across the crease.
Mick got into a third-period scrap with the SilverBacks’ Jack Berezin, not long after the Vipers’ Adam Nanji and Salmon Arm’s Joey Colatarci dropped the mitts.
A pair of Vernon products – Harlan Orr and Colton Thibault – replied for the SilverBacks later in the second period. Orr capitalized on a Calvin turnover at the sidewall at 6:04, while Thibault one-timed a Thomas Plese feed on the powerplay at 7:40.
Thibault, who helped the North Okanagan Knights reach the KIJHL final last season, said the calibre of play in the BCHL is noticeable, even in preseason.
“It’s a lot less time and space. There’s guys on you in a split second. In Junior B, I had to move around and think what I was going to do. With this, I’ve got to think quicker and move faster.”
Thibault texted Matty Saharchuk after Saturday’s game to check in on his former Knights’ teammate. Thibault earned a misconduct for a hit to the head as the two raced for a puck in the corner.
“He looked back at me and gave me a little smirk from it,” said Thibault.
Hannoun, on a partial breakaway, and Plese, on a scramble in front of netminder Harrison Whitlock during a Salmon Arm man advantage, exchanged second-period goals.
Taro Hirose showed great hands in going top shelf on second-half tender Gunnar Neilson for the Gorillas’ third-straight powerplay marker, early in the third frame.
Vernon’s man advantage then came to life as Calvin set up Mason Blacklock for a one-timer, followed by a Jason Bird bomb from the point to put the Vipers back in front.
Vernon got a two-goal cushion when forwards Cole Golka and Tyler Povolovskie pressured a Salmon Arm defender into a turnover, which resulted in a Dean Allison snipe from the high slot.
Hirose set up Jordan Levesque to bring the visitors back within a goal, but Calvin added an empty-netter with five seconds to play.
Assistant coaches Kevin Kraus of the SilverBacks and Dave Robinson of the Vipers, who were teammates for Vernon’s 2010 RBC Cup run, weren’t surprised by the level of intensity Saturday night.
“We’ve got seven more games against them in the regular season and I anticipate every game is going to be that way,” said Kraus. “Good hockey, at the same time, a lot of emotion.
“There’s fire brewing already. It’s part of the sport. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, or if you played for them before. I’m a Salmon Arm SilverBack now and the emotion is there. It makes for a better game.”
Added Robinson: “It’s exhibition, but I was feeling the intensity behind the bench and I’m sure it was magnified on the ice. I’m sure they don’t like those guys after one game.”
The Vipers released forwards Steven Fehr, Nanji and Cole Golka following weekend action, leaving them with 15 forwards, eight d-men and four goalies.
Danny Todosychuk is expected to start tonight as the Vipers battle the Prince George Spruce Kings in 100 Mile House. Vernon concludes the preseason with a home-and-home series with the West Kelowna Warriors starting Friday at Kal Tire Place.
SNAKE BITES: Ex-Viper Dylan Walchuk, entering his first season with the University of Calgary Dinos, had a dream assignment filling in for Joe Thornton during Team Canada’s walk-through at its Olympic orientation camp Monday in Calgary. The 21-year-old had a stall between Boston Bruins’ winger Brad Marchand and Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby. “I think I can be first line with Sid,” Walchuk joked with The Calgary Herald. “I need a good start. I need to have a pretty solid season.”