It took Darren Nowick more than 30 games to score his first B.C. Hockey League goal last season.
The Long Beach, Cali. native cut that to 30 seconds in his sophomore year, burying the first shot of the game as the Vernon Vipers iced the Salmon Arm SilverBacks 5-1 in their season opener Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
Nowick, one of just three 20-year-olds on the Vernon roster and the game’s first star, wired a one-timer on a nice setup by Mike Zalewski, who got in behind the Salmon Arm defence to collect a stretch pass from Brett Corkey.
“It felt really good to get it off my back now, and start going from there,” grinned Nowick, who looked dominant on the Vipers’ all-American top line of Zalewski (New Hartford, N.Y.) and John Knisley (Pittsford, N.Y.).
“We just continued from what we did last year, halfway through the season. It should be a good line all the way to the end.”
Kirby Halcrow jumpstarted his 2011-12 campaign with a pair of saves in close on SilverBack captain Brett Knowles and forward Bryce Gervais. The burly 6-foot-2 tender looked relaxed in recording 31 stops for his first win of the season.
Salmon Arm starter Kurt Williams (29 saves) didn’t get a lot of help in front of him and seemed to be fighting off pucks.
“It was pretty scrambly. Six guys knew each other coming into camp so it’s a lot of new faces. It’s just a matter of getting to know each other out there and making things click,” said Knowles.
“It’s just ‘welcome to the league’ for a lot of these guys. To a man, we weren’t good enough, but we’ve got to get past it.”
Heading into the season, the Vipers said they were going to utilize their speed, and it showed Friday night. Leading the way were the veterans, who accounted for all five Vernon goals.
“We’re going to lean on our veterans. They’ve got to show the way. Five goals from five veterans tonight – that speaks highly of them. They brought their A-game,” said Vernon head coach Jason Williamson.
The Vipers, who were dominated by Salmon Arm in last year’s regular-season series, were equally aggressive on the penalty kill, intercepting passes and breaking out on multiple odd-man rushes.
“We want to be relentless on the puck, and that’s what we were for the most part,” said Williamson.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to shore up, but the effort was there and the guys were competing and we got the outcome we wanted.”
With the SilverBacks’ Klay Kachur serving a boarding penalty, Knisley threaded a cross-ice, backdoor pass for Zalewski (second star) on the powerplay to make it 2-0 Vernon before the first intermission.
The SilverBacks, wearing their new-look, L.A. Kings-style jerseys, responded just 20 second into the second frame as Morgan Zulinick collected a turnover in the neutral zone and hustled into Vernon’s zone to snap a quick shot past Halcrow from his off wing.
The Vipers’ Aaron Hadley responded on the next shift with a couple quick shots in close, but couldn’t finish.
The all-rookie line of Connor Hartley, Jedd Soleway and 16-year-old call-up Cole Sanford (KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies) followed that up with some swarming pressure in Salmon Arm’s zone.
Vernon netted its second powerplay goal when Marcus Basara (third star) dropped a short pass to Pat McGillis, who used a Salmon Arm defender as a screen to squeak a low snapshot through Williams’ five-hole at 6:01.
Halcrow’s best save in the frame came with 13 seconds left as he stopped Stefan Nickolishen with a nice glove save.
Vernon had to weather a stint of shorthanded play early in the third period on a pair of borderline minors called by referee Nick Swaine. He drew the ire of an estimated 1,700 fans when he assessed Knisley a tripping penalty for what looked like a solid hipcheck.
Swaine then sent Ryan Renz off on a kneeing infraction after the strapping defender leveled a Salmon Arm attacker at his blueline.
The Salmon Arm powerplay went 0-for-5, which is something head coach Colin O’Hara wants to see improve.
“Our special teams have to get better. We gave up two powerplay goals and didn’t score on any of our opportunities. Those guys that are privileged to play those minutes have to get better for sure,” said O’Hara, a former assistant coach with Vernon.
“We made the game hard on ourselves and on our d-men by giving up so many odd-man rushes. We’ve got a long way to go if we want to compete with these top teams.”
Vernon went up 4-1 when Colton Sparrow corralled a centring pass from Barasa before ripping a shot post-and-in on a rush at 6:34.
Knisley nearly got burned as he coughed up the puck right in front of Halcrow, who bailed him out with a pair of reflex saves. The speedy forward got the puck back and wheeled up ice, redeeming himself with a gorgeous top-shelf snipe over Williams’ blocker to complete the scoring at 18:24.
The Vipers visited the SilverBacks Saturday night at Sunwave Centre. They travel to West Kelowna to take on the Westside Warriors Friday night at Royal LePage Place.
In other Interior Conference action Friday night, the Penticton Vees got a goal and two helpers from Mike Moran in a 5-2 win over the host Coquitlam Express.
After trading two goals apiece in the first period, the Vees buried three unanswered goals to put the game away. Troy Stecher recorded the winner at 6:01 of the second period.
Rylan Ferster’s Westside Warriors scored five times in the second frame on the way to a 7-3 win over the host Trail Smoke Eaters Friday night at Cominco Arena.
Tyler Krause led the Warrior attack with a hat trick. Seb Lloyd added a goal and two assists.
Former SilverBack Paul De Jersey collected 2+1 to lead the host Prince George Spruce Kings to a 6-3 win over the Merritt Centennials at the Coliseum.
Spruce King triplets Gerry (2G), Leo (1+1) and Myles Fitzgerald (1A) combined for five points.
SNAKE BITES: The Vipers named Zalewski, Hadley and Corkey as their assistant captains for the coming season.