Viper captain David Robinson tries to get a shot off against Merritt Centennial netminder Lino Chimienti during BCHL action Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

Viper captain David Robinson tries to get a shot off against Merritt Centennial netminder Lino Chimienti during BCHL action Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

Cents sink Snakes in OT

A first-round bye in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs is there if the Vernon Vipers want it.

However, head coach Mark Ferner says it will take a better effort than the one he witnessed Friday night against the Merritt Centennials at Wesbild Centre.

The Snakes appeared listless at times as they skated to a 3-2 overtime loss against the hard-working Cents, who were backstopped by a 33-save showing from second star netminder Lino Chimienti.

First star Chad Brears (fourth goal) took a feed from Centennial defenceman Billy Marshall and chipped a weak shot over Blake Voth’s shoulder with 25 seconds remaining in the first OT period.

“I don’t know if they think they’re better than they are, but the one thing that has to stay consistent is our work ethic and there was none,” said Ferner, who flew solo behind the Viper bench as assistant coach Jason Williamson was away scouting.

It was the Vipers’ second straight subpar performance, and Ferner planned to hold a practice Saturday to remind the players of what his expectations are.

“They will find out what work is (Saturday) because that was embarrassing. Over the next couple days we’ll find out the guys who really want to play.”

Vernon, first in the Interior at 33-11-4-9, can earn the bye if they win their last three games. They visit the Centennials (21-28-1-6) Tuesday night at the phone booth-sized Nicola Valley Arena.

A loss, tie or OT loss would allow the second-place Salmon Arm SilverBacks (36-17-2-0) into the picture. The Gorillas already have three more wins than Vernon.

“Salmon Arm is right on our tail and they have two games in hand so pretty much our fate is in our hands. If we want first place, we’re going to have to earn it,” said Viper forward Dylan Walchuk, who earned third star against the Cents.

Ferner shuffled his lines slightly for Friday’s game, starting Marcus Basara on a line with veterans Dave Robinson and Kyle Murphy. Bryce Kakoske dropped back to play with Darren Nowick and John Knisley.

The Vipers recorded the game’s first good scoring chance on a shorthanded rush, with Pat McGillis centering for Walchuk, who ripped a shot just over the crossbar.

McGillis and Walchuk worked together to create at least half a dozen quality scoring chances throughout the game, but couldn’t finish.

“Me and Patty have good chemistry together. We were setting each other up but the puck just wasn’t going in tonight,” said Walchuk, an NCAA North Michigan Wildcat prospect.

“We came out flat. The score was close but we had a few chances to put it away, but we didn’t finish and it came back to bite us.”

Seconds after a penalty to Basara expired, Cents’ forward Stephen Wall set up linemate Dustin Lebrun (11th) on a nice give-and-go from the corner to open the scoring at 8:51.

Vernon picked up their game in the second period, outshooting Merritt 18-6 (35-22 overall), and had the visitors hemmed in their zone for parts of the period. They were finally rewarded on the powerplay at 9:10. Nowick (ninth) had a great second effort, chipping a one-handed shot over a sprawling Chimienti as he was getting hauled down in the crease.

The Vipers took the lead at 17:44 on a 3-on-1 rush. A Merritt defender blocked Dane Muench’s cross-ice feed to McGillis, but the puck went right to Walchuk (23rd), who squeaked a shot past Chimienti.

Defenceman Adam Thompson started the quick transition with a good outlet pass.

Merritt equalized on a goalmouth scramble early in the third period as Regan Soquilla (18th) beat Voth (19 saves) with a quick shot in close.

“It took a funny bounce to me and I just put my head down and shot it,” smiled Soquila, who forms a potent first line with Jeff Jones and rookie Evan Stack.

“We had some problems in the second. They were pushing and we just tried to contain them until we got the momentum back and then we just tried to go with it.”

Merritt head coach Luke Pierce, who amassed 28 points and 223 penalty minutes with the Vipers in 2003-04, felt Chimienti’s goaltending was a deciding factor in the game.

“Our goaltending was superb. Lino was outstanding and we needed that from him. We needed some big saves and he gave us those tonight,” said Pierce.

“Our second period we got caught watching pucks and we were losing a lot of puck races and struggling to get out of our end.”

Chimienti came up with possibly his best save in overtime as he denied defenceman Malcolm Lyles on a breakaway with a well-timed pokecheck.

The post-season can’t come soon enough for the Centennials. They occupy the second-to-last Interior playoff spot, but they can’t catch Westside, nor can they be caught by Quesnel.

“We’re in limbo,” said Pierce, who only has three 20-year-olds on his roster. “When you’re lacking that external motivation, it’s tough. Being young guys, they have to learn the lesson slowly. You can only push them so hard before they start tuning you out.”