Soft hands. Hard shot. Demico Hannoun showed a bit of both Friday night at Kal Tire Place.
The North Delta native produced a three-point second period to lead the host Vernon Vipers to a 4-0 shutout of the Merritt Centennials in front of 1,656 B.C. Hockey League fans.
Vernon took a 1-0 lead early in the first period when Colton Sparrow (5th goal) banked a cross pass off a Merritt defenceman and past Devin Kero during a powerplay.
Hannoun’s magic show took over in the second frame, starting with a one-timer off a short feed from Michael Statchuk at the sidewall, beating Kero just inside the post, at 6:39.
Less than two minutes later, Hannoun dangled around a Merritt d-man before serving up a slick backhanded cross-ice feed that Chase McMurphy redirected past a helpless Kero for his fourth goal.
Hannoun completed the offence with his ninth of the season at 10:16 by picking the right corner from the slot. Michael McNicholas set up the play from the corner.
“It felt good,” said Hannoun, of his offensive outburst. “I decided to switch it up. I wasn’t shooting much in the last couple of games so I started shooting a little bit more.”
Hannoun, arguably Vernon’s purest offensive talent, seems to have picked up his play since he returned to the team after competing with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.
“I’ve really been working on my consistency, shift after shift,” he said. “It’s been helping a lot.”
Added Vernon head coach Jason Williamson: “He’s working hard away from pucks, and when he gets the puck in areas with time and space he makes plays. He’s fun to watch, he’s fun to coach.”
Each of the three previous tilts between Vernon and Merritt have been one-goal affairs, but once the Vipers got that lucky bounce on Sparrow’s goal, they took over and did a fine job of frustrating the Cents, which is something Merritt usually excels at.
“It was easier because we were on top most of the game,” said Hannoun. “It’s easier to frustrate the other team when they’re losing.”
Given the tightness in the Interior Division – Vernon (15-7-3-4) holds a one-point lead over the Penticton Vees (16-7-1-3), and a three-point margin over Merritt (16-11-1-1) – Centennials’ head coach was surprised by his team’s lack of jump.
“The biggest disappointment to me is both teams understood what was at stake, and for us to be as flat and disinterested as we were is quite concerning,” said Pierce.
“We got outworked. They did a great job of getting to our net and causing havoc.
“Finally in the third period, we got back to ourselves a little bit, but the game was well and done by that point.”
Austin Smith recorded 31 saves for his first shutout of the season. Kero made 32 stops.
“We competed and matched their work ethic and kind of killed them off,” said Smith.
“Lately, if we get up by one goal, we just keep going and going. Getting that first goal is key and you just keep working from there.”
Williamson was particularly impressed with how Vernon didn’t just sit on the lead, especially when the Centennials began mounting some pressure in period three. His third- and fourth-liners kept crashing and banging, his skilled forwards kept generating chances and his back end held Merritt’s forwards in check.
“We didn’t give up a lot,” he said. “You can sometime get a little lazy when the game is probably out of reach. We did a good job of that. We probably had more scoring chances than they did in the third.”
The hard-hitting tilt was punctuated by a scrap in final minute of regulation as towering Vernon d-man Mark Hamilton pummelled smaller Cents’ forward Sam Johnson in front of the Viper bench. Dexter Dancs and Daniel Nachbaur dropped the mitts for a quick tilt early in the second period.
Vernon entertains the 7-18-2-1 Trail Smoke Eaters in a 2 p.m. matinee today at Kal Tire Place.