The Vernon Vipers are well aware of the magic tricks Demico Hannoun can work with a puck.
If they needed a reminder, they got one Friday night at Kal Tire Place as their former teammate torched them for a pair of goals to lead the Penticton Vees to a 3-1 win before 2,000 B.C. Hockey League fans.
“Cheeks (Hannoun’s nickname), he’s a good guy, he’s a friend of mine, but you never want to see that,” said Vipers’ captain Riley Guenther, smiling as he shook his head.
The Vipers, now 5-4-0-1, must have wondered what they did to cross the hockey gods as they outplayed the league-leading Vees (9-1) for 19 of the first 20 minutes, hemming them in their own end and generating some decent scoring chances.
However, it was Penticton who got on the board first with 36 seconds to play in period one, on a greasy road goal by Hannoun. Vernon netminder Jarrod Schamerhorn went behind his net to play the puck and, on a miscommunication with his d-man, shoveled it straight to Penticton forward Steen Cooper, who relayed it out front to a wide open Hannoun.
“We came out a little sluggish,” said the 19-year-old Hannoun. “You could tell in the dressing room we weren’t really prepared but we just got better as the game went on.
“It’s a little different being on the other (players’ bench), but it was a good crowd here, good atmosphere and it was a good game.
“We’re off to a great start, and we’ve got a lot of chemistry with all the lines right now.”
Hannoun, a soft-handed North Delta product, leads Penticton with eight snipes, and is headed to the NCAA Michigan Tech Huskies next fall. Following last season, he was sent back to the Surrey Eagles from Vernon as future considerations for the deal that brought Brett Mulcahy to the Snake Pit at the trade deadline.
Penticton picked him up in the offseason in exchange for d-man Alexandre Coulombe and future considerations.
Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson had a sense his team was a little off in its morning skate.
“We were a little quiet and it carried over into the game,” he said. “Fortunately for us, our goaltender made the saves that he had to, and we were fortunate to score late in the period.”
Vees’ keeper Hunter Miska (33 saves), named third star behind Hannoun and Vernon’s Thomas Aldworth, was sharp throughout, particularly in flashing his pads to deny a number of Vernon shots destined for the low corners.
Aside from the gaffe behind his net, Schamerhorn was impressive in the Vernon crease for the third straight game. He thwarted Vees’ forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage a number of times from point-blank range.
Danny Todosychuk, who has been nursing a sore groin, was expected to start Saturday night as Vernon visited the 5-4-0-1 West Kelowna Warriors at Royal LePage Place.
The Snakes struggled to gain any momentum in the second period as they spent most of it in the penalty box. Fortunately for them, the Vees’ powerplay has been uncharacteristically disorganized this season. Vernon looked more dangerous shorthanded than the Vees did with the man advantage, generating a rare 3-on-1 rush that was botched when Liam Coughlin fanned on a cross-ice pass.
Shortly after, Aldworth earned a penalty shot when he was hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway, but the strong-skating Texan had the puck roll on his stick as he went in on Miska, and he misfired over the net.
“It’s (powerplay) never been a problem for us, but tonight some of Vernon’s best chances were when we were on the powerplay,” said Harbinson. “It really could have turned the game.
“I said at the beginning of the year that you need patience with this team, and everybody assumes you’re talking about wins and losses. We’re lucky to be 9-1, and there’s parts of the game where we’re going to have to keep working with them.”
The Vees finally made good on their fourth powerplay attempt as Hannoun snapped a point shot through a crowd, beating a helpless Schamerhorn, post-and-in.
“The first goal, it was just a miscommunication behind the net,” said Guenther. “The second one, we needed a block there.
“I thought we played well, we just couldn’t find a way to get any more past Miska. It just comes down to us bearing down on those chances. We’ve got to score when we get those opportunities.”
Aldworth, with his team-leading sixth goal, pulled Vernon within one with 3:46 to play when he swatted home a Coughlin rebound before Miska could reposition himself.
Vernon pulled Schamerhorn for an extra attacker, but couldn’t bury the equalizer. Instead, Matt Serratore (4th goal) put the game away with a last-second empty netter.
Said Vernon head coach Mark Ferner: “We generated enough chances, but we’ve got to bear down. I’m not sure if it’s a confidence thing, squeezing the stick a little bit, but we’ve got to find some secondary scoring here. We can’t just rely on the one line.”
SNAKE BITES: Aldworth has earned game stars in three consecutive outings…The Trail Smoke Eaters, featuring ex-Vipers Craig Martin and Dallas Calvin, boast the league’s top powerplay at 30.56 per cent. Penticton’s (15.38) is fourth-last and Vernon’s is dead-last at a meager 2.22 per cent.