Victoria Grizzlies’ netminder Garrett Rockafellow holds his ground to deny Vernon Vipers’ forward Brendan Persley in BCHL action Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

Victoria Grizzlies’ netminder Garrett Rockafellow holds his ground to deny Vernon Vipers’ forward Brendan Persley in BCHL action Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

Grizzlies ground Vipers in third

Moran buries winner as Victoria Grizzlies brush back Vernon Vipers 3-2

Even with celebrity A-listers Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban in attendance, birthday boy Jason Williamson was hardly in a celebratory mood Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

The Vernon Vipers’ head coach, who turned 31, spent the minutes after his team’s 4-3 B.C. Hockey League loss to the Victoria Grizzlies locked behind closed doors in a lengthy team meeting.

The 17-15-1-2 Snakes are three points out of an Interior Conference playoff spot, and with injuries to key personnel, have to be feeling a twinge of urgency with just 25 regular-season games remaining. They entertained the second-place Merritt Centennials (20-10-2-5) Saturday night at Wesbild.

“We can stare at a board all day long and look at what our roster looks like when everybody’s healthy… but right now we’re just battling for a playoff spot and we have to find that way to win,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Chris Shaw.

“It’s getting to the point where we have to step up collectively as a group. Daily, we do the right things, and it just comes down to executing when it’s game time. It’s just consistency and playing with passion any time you’re on the ice.”

Kidman and Urban, rumoured to be holidaying up at Silver Star Mountain Resort, left at the second intermission, missing out on Mike Moran’s winner with five minutes to play in regulation. Alex Holland jumpstarted the play by intercepting Max Mowat’s cross-ice pass at the blueline and transitioned into a 2-on-1. Kirby Halcrow (24 saves) made the initial stop, but the puck careened into the net off Moran’s fallen body as he crashed the net.

Vernon had plenty of jump to start the game and were rewarded with an early powerplay goal by second star Mike Zalewski, his 19th of the season. After some quick perimeter work, defenceman Brett Corkey fed the puck down low to the New Hartford, N.Y. native for a back-door one-timer in front of 2,000 fans.

Former Viper Jarryd Ten Vaanholt (17th goal), who was traded to Victoria in the preseason, answered for the 18-19 Grizzlies at 11:11, burying a loose puck in front of Halcrow.

Ten Vaanholt, who has 41 points in 36 games playing first-line minutes with snipers Wesley Myron and Wade Murphy, left the game later in the first period after suffering a knee-on-knee collision with Vernon defenceman Ryan Renz.

“It’s a big charley horse and luckily for me it wasn’t exactly on my knee, it’s just above it,” said Ten Vaanholt, who liked how his team responded after a sluggish start.

“It was a playoff atmosphere. You could tell both teams were desperate. It was right down to the wire. We need every point we can get and that was just a big win.”

Despite being traded, Ten Vaanholt holds no ill will towards the Vipers. If anything, he feels indebted to them for bringing him back to the BCHL after the Salmon Arm SilverBacks dealt him to the Saskatchewan league during the off-season.

“I never actually got to play a regular-season game, but Vernon did do a lot for me,” he said. “They got me out of Saskatchewan and back to the B.C. Hockey League, which is where I needed to be, so I can’t be mad at them.

“If you look at the stats I’ve put up, it’s not like they traded me back to Saskatchewan, or to a team where I’m buried in the lineup and not putting up points.

“Any time you get the chance to play against the old team, the team that traded you away, you always have that extra incentive. I guess getting that goal tonight was the cherry on top of the win.”

Darren Nowick (25th), taking a feed from Zalewski, showed some great hands in close to beat Grizzlies’ netminder Garrett Rockafellow to make it 2-1 after 20 minutes.

The Vipers had their eyes wide shut in the second period as the others from Victoria were far and away the better team, outshooting Vernon 11-6 and recording back-to-back goals to earn their first lead. Myron (17th, third star) got it started at 8:14 with a 5-on-3 goal, converting a slick cross-ice feed from Murphy.

Call-up player Dayne Ellison gave the visitors a 3-2 edge at 13:29 before Aaron Hadley equalized for Vernon late in the second frame.

Vernon dominated the third period, but couldn’t push a puck past first star Rockafellow (30 saves). The Crossfield, Alta. product came up with a desperation game stopper on Adam Tambellini five minutes into the final period. With the Vipers swarming, the downed keeper stretched his arm back across the crease to deny Tambellini from gimme range.

“I got pretty lucky. I just saw that he was shooting and laid back and put my arm around,” smiled Rockafellow, who played last season with the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies.

Added Grizzlies’ assistant coach Rob Doyle: “That’s the save that turned the game around for us.

“Not very many people have taken wins out of this building in the last few years. The atmoshpere is great, you know they’re a good team and their rich hockey history and you have to come to play. It’s good for the guys and we’ll build on it.”

Rockafellow also shone in the first period, denying Corkey after a slick end-to-end rush, Turner Lawson, on a point-blank one-timer, and Tambellini, on a 2-on-1 with Colton Sparrow.

“We had bus legs in the first so I kind of knew what was expected,” said Rockafellow. “After the (first period), even though they came at us hard, it was good for us to rebound and finish off the game.”

SNAKE BITES: Williamson juggled his lineup Friday night, shifting Lawson, normally a d-man, up to the wing. He also called up Revelstoke Grizzlies blueliner Lucas Hildebrand.