Caton makes most of time

Caton breaks out with three points as Vernon Vipers stuff Trail Smoke Eaters 9-5 in BCHL play Saturday at Cominco Arena.

Blaine Caton has spent a little time lately watching B.C. Hockey League action from the press box.

The Vernon Vipers’ rookie pivot is making his case for an ice-level view. The 17-year-old Vernon product collected a goal and two assists as the Snakes thumped the host Trail Smoke Eaters 9-5 in a goal-filled affair Saturday night at Cominco Arena.

“Whenever you get put back in the lineup and get the opportunity, you’ve got to show what you can do,” said Caton, who skated between buzzsaw wingers Nicholas Rasovic and Riley Brandt.

Caton’s goal, his second of the season, capped a four-goal barrage in less than three minutes in the first period to give Vernon a 5-1 lead. He batted home a rebound out of midair to chase netminder Adam Todd, who allowed five goals on 16 shots. Brett Clark made 14 saves in relief.

Brandt (3rd goal), who opened the goal spree at 13:26, and Rasovic, with his first as a Viper in the third period, also scored.

“They really came along and were probably our hardest working line that game,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Kevin Kraus.

With Vernon forward Liam Finlay and d-man Luke Shiplo away at the Team Canada West selection camp for the World Junior A Challenge (Dec. 14-20 in Kindersley, Sask.), the second-place Snakes (17-8-1-2) could be without two of their primary powerplay components as they host the West Kelowna Warriors (15-9-0-5) tonight (7:00) at Kal Tire Place.

Even if they don’t make the squad, it was unknown at The Morning Star’s press time whether Finlay or Shiplo would return in time to play.

“It’s a big statement game for us,” said Kraus. “They’re two points behind. They either keep it close or we start to make some room in the standings.”

Since Finlay joined the Vipers in early November, the Snakes’ powerplay has clicked at an impressive 24.59 per cent (15-of-61). Vernon’s man advantage has clicked in each of its last four games, including snipes by Thomas Aldworth (18th) and TJ Dumonceaux (10th), in the first and third period, respectively, against the last-place Smokies (12-15-0-1) Saturday.

“When we picked up Finlay (from the Penticton Vees), he and Shiplo are running it up top, and Liam Coughlin down low, he’s so good with puck,” said Caton. “TJ has most of the goals though.”

Aldworth’s powerplay goal opened the scoring 8:34 into the first period before Charlie Zuccarini (17th) replied for Trail. Aldworth (19th) and Jagger Williamson (3rd), with a wicked snapshot from the blueline, tallied 18 seconds apart after Brandt had started the first-period goal frenzy.

Jake Lucchini (13th) got one back for Trail with 11 seconds to play in the first period, and Paulsen Lautard (2nd) made it 5-3 early in period two.

“Defensively, there were a lot of missed coverages,” said Kraus. “We just need to be committed to the defensive zone every night, every shift.”

Second-period singles by Mitch Meek (6th) and Trevor Fidler (7th) restored Vernon’s four-goal cushion, but Trail responded with a powerplay goal by Conner Wynne (1st) in the third. Connor Brown-Maloski (4th) completed the offence with 1:31 to play.

Ex-Viper Dallas Calvin recorded three assists for Trail. Shiplo had four helpers for Vernon.

After a promising start, the Smoke Eaters are 4-5-0-1 in their last 10. Vernon is 7-2-0-1.

“For our group, it’s time to hopefully just re-energize here and understand where we’re at in our division and where we need to get to,” said Trail Smoke Eater assistant coach Craig Clare. “We’re not out of this thing by any point, but we need to turn it around quickly to give ourselves an opportunity to get back in the playoff picture.”

SNAKE BITES: Jarrod Schamerhorn is expected to start tonight as Danny Todosychuk is back on injured reserve. Captain Riley Guenther has been cleared to practise after missing two weeks with a lower-body injury. He is doubtful for Wednesday…Forward Linden Hora was a healthy scratch in Trail.