Friday night’s B.C. Hockey League showdown between the Vernon Vipers and the Salmon Arm SilverBacks could best be measured in seconds.
It took just 21 seconds for the Gorillas to open the scoring. Rookie winger Aaron Hadley needed only nine seconds to put the Vipers back in front with a pair of back-to-back goals.
And Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner wasted no seconds in pulling netminder Blake Voth after he let in a pair of pillow-soft goals less than two minutes apart in the second period.
In the end, there weren’t enough seconds for the Snakes to earn a comeback as they fell 3-2 before 2,000 fans at Wesbild Centre.
The SilverBacks (15-8), now tied with Vernon for second in the Interior, burned the Vipers (12-6-1-5) on the opening shift, catching forwards John Knisley and Hadley up ice with a quick transition. The resulting 3-on-2 saw first star Devin Gannon cap off a gorgeous triangle tic-tac-toe play with Clinton Atkinson and third star Matt Cassidy.
“It’s always exciting coming in this building – great fans, great atmosphere,” said Gannon, a Kamloops native. “It’s a great rivalry that goes back 10 years when Salmon Arm came back in the league… and it’s great to be a part of it.”
Gannon, who leads the SilverBacks with 12 goals for 25 points, has already surpassed the 21 points he put up a rookie in 58 games last season. He credits a grueling off-season workout plan for much of his success.
Said SilverBacks’ head coach Tim Kehler: “He’s one of those kids you like to see succeed because he plays the game the right way. He is most often our hardest worker.
“The real challenge for Devin was whether he could be an offensive contributor and he has answered that in spades this year.”
Salmon Arm netminder Chase Martin (26 saves) had his first big test midway through the first period when Mike Zalewski sprung Knisley behind a SilverBack defender. Martin bailed his teammate out with a quick glove.
The ‘Backs acquired the Medicine Hat native and future considerations from the Spruce Grove Saints in exchange for forward Taylor Fauchoux last month. They needed another goalie while Kris Moore recovers from a broken hand sustained in a line brawl against the Merritt Centennials on Oct. 8.
As with most Salmon Arm-Vernon games, there was plenty of physical activity Friday night. The Gorillas’ Josh Manson stepped into Stevie Weinstein as he wheeled up the left wing midway through the first period. Vernon’s Bryce Kakoske returned the favour a few minutes later, driving Manson into the end boards as he went to clear a puck.
Vernon got on the board late in the first period when defenceman Max Mowatt barged into the offensive zone and shovelled the puck to the slot where Hadley (6th goal) redirected it past Martin at 18:09.
While that goal was being announced, Knisley spotted Hadley (7th) coming in late on the play and fed him for his second of the night, a nice forehand-backhand deke at 18:18.
The record for the fastest two goals in league history is six seconds, a feat accomplished by three players in the 1970s – Bill Haynes (Kelowna), Russ Wilderman (Langley) and Carl Poeschek (Merritt).
The Vipers, who own the third-worst powerplay in the BCHL (17.95 per cent), generated plenty of opportunities with the man advantage, but went scoreless in eight attempts. Salmon Arm have the second-best penalty kill at 85.15 per cent.
“We moved the puck around well and had lots of chances but sooner or later you’ve got to bury one,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Jason Williamson.
Paul De Jersey equalized for Salmon Arm at 11:47 of the second period when he threw a sharp-angle shot that appeared to redirect into the top corner off Voth’s shoulder.
Gannon collected the winner from nearly the same spot, somehow squeezing his shot through Voth’s pads as the Vernon keeper hugged the post.
Bryton Udy (nine saves) replaced Voth (six saves) after that.
Said Williamson: “A couple lapses cost us and playing in this league we can’t have that. Everybody has got to be ready to go or it’s going to end up in the back of your net. That was the case on those two goals.”
With Vernon pressing, Martin absolutely robbed Knisley with his glove as the speedy forward cruised into the slot and fired a quick shot with four minutes remaining.
“We had a lot of chances,” said Knisley. “Hats off to the goalie, he made some stellar saves to keep his team in there.”
The two teams completed their weekend home-and-home series Saturday night at the Sunwave Centre. The Vipers head out for a four-game coastal tour, starting Wednesday against the league-leading Powell River Kings.