There wasn’t all that much holiday cheer going on in the Vernon Vipers’ dressing room Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
Head coach Jason Williamson may have even added a couple names to his naughty list following the Snakes’ 6-1 pummeling at the hands of the Merritt Centennials in the first leg of a fight-filled B.C. Hockey League home-and-home set.
Vernon, occupants of the Interior cellar at 11-15-0-7, visited the second-place Cents (18-11-1-1) Saturday night at Nicola Valley Arena.
“We’ve just got to be more urgent and more desperate. They just came in and out-willed us,” said Williamson.
“I warned them all week long that was going to be the case and we had a bunch of passengers tonight.”
First star Regan Soquila and second star Derek Huisman combined for nine points for Merritt, helping their team skate to a 2-0 lead after one period.
Huisman skated the puck in from the blueline and spotted Soquila back door for the first snipe in the fourth minute.
Soquila redirected defenceman Charlie Donlin’s point shot for the second tally.
“I had my back to the play, but our d-man took a shot, it took a couple bounces and landed on my stick,” said Soquila, a Maple Ridge product. He leads the Cents with 12-23-35 in 31 games.
As a third-year player, Soquila has been through the rebuilding process in Merritt and is happy with the direction the team is headed under head coach Luke Pierce.
“It’s rewarding when you put in all that work and finally see your team at the top,” he said. “We like to be prided on our hard work and dedication.”
Jeff Wight, with is fifth of the season, followed by back-to-back goals by Huisman (12th and 13th), had the Centennials well on their way to victory early in the third period.
Dexter Dancs (4th) broke netminder Tyler Steel’s shutout during a 5-on-3 advantage with five minutes to play.
Dancs has five points (two goals, three assists) in six games since joining Vernon from the Penticton Vees.
Steel, a Vernon native, finished with 26 saves. Austin Smith had 23 saves in the loss.
Said Pierce: “Tyler gave us the saves when we needed them, but we also did a good job of eliminating any second opportunities.
“Our top guys were ready to go. I had challenged them a little bit after a disappointing outing in Trail (4-2 loss to the Smoke Eaters Tuesday night) and I thought they responded very well.”
Pierce added that just because Vernon is struggling, teams are not going to go easy on them.
“Every team comes in here with a hunger to beat them because of their tradition and history so that’s a big thing. They’re seeing a team’s best every night.”
Frustrated by a lack of production, the Vipers came unglued in the third period, taking several undisciplined penalties.
Colton Sparrow challenged speedy Brendan Lamont to a scrap after Lamont railroaded Mitch McAllister at centre ice.
Aaron Hadley, Vernon’s hardest working player on the night, boiled over and took his aggression out on Silvan Harper in a one-sided tussle in front of the Vernon bench.
Pearce Eviston started the fisticuffs late in the first period when he retaliated against Cents’ d-man Dylan Chanter for checking Brendan Persley hard in the back.
Chanter, an Armstrong native, earned an early shower for the hit. Persley needed help to the bench, but returned to action.
Persley said the Vipers need to take the next week to regroup and come back with a better mind set if they’re going to have a chance at making the playoffs.
“Everyone’s going to go home for Christmas and hopefully come back with a clear head and forget what happened in the past and build from there,” said the hard-nosed Kelowna product.
“As a team, we can do that and I’m sure we’ll be making a push for it. You see spurts of it on some nights and other nights it’s the whole opposite direction.”
Soquila completed the hat trick with one second remaining in regulation, jamming a puck past Smith on a late man advantage.
The Cents finished the night 2-for-6 on the powerplay, while Vernon converted on one of five attempts.
The Vipers return to BCHL action in the New Year when they visit the Salmon Arm SilverBacks, Friday, Jan. 4, at the Shaw Centre.