DAUPHIN, MAN. – It wasn’t pretty, but the Vernon Vipers found a way to post their first win at the Royal Bank Cup Junior A Hockey Championship Sunday night at Credit Union Place. A day after a disappointing overtime loss to the host Dauphin Kings in their opener, the Snakes got a gritty two-goal performance from veteran forward David Robinson to double the La Ronge Ice Wolves 4-2 before 1,300 fans.
With the two clubs deadlocked 1-1 after 20 minutes, Robinson netted goals three minutes apart in the second period, including the winner on a powerplay, to put Vernon in full control. The feisty Vernon forward also did his best to get under the Saskatchewan champions’ skin. A three-year veteran with the WHL Chilliwack Bruins before joining his hometown Vipers in January, Robinson is at his best when he plays the antagonist. It is a role he relishes.
“That’s just the way I play. They probably don’t like me too much over there, but that’s when I play my best is when I’m in all those scrums and going to the net hard and getting in guys’ faces,” grinned the tenacious 170-pounder, adding it felt good to get on the scoresheet.
“It’s good for the confidence to get producing a little bit. I haven’t produced the way I wanted to throughout the playoffs so to get a couple on the board tonight and one yesterday (against Dauphin), it helps the confidence.”
The Ice Wolves tried to slow the game down by unleashing their physical style of play, while the Vipers turned to their skill game to push the pace and stay a step ahead.
Jonathan Milhouse opened the scoring when he tipped defenceman Curtis Gedig’s point shot past Joel Danyluk at 3:56 of the first period. Just 28 seconds later, La Ronge’s Doug Lindensmith equalized, beating Graeme Gordon with a backhand wraparound, bouncing his shot off the Viper netminder’s leg. Aaron Enns, a former Nanaimo Clipper, earned an assist.
Vernon has developed a worrisome habit of not being able to protect a lead lately. They squandered a pair of two-goal leads against Dauphin, and have had similar slip-ups earlier in the playoffs. Robinson says it’s just a matter of paying attention to detail.
“We’ve just been harping on one another that when we get up by one or two we’ve got to play solid defensively and play that simple game. We’re not used to giving up six goals in a night and Ferns (Vernon coach Mark Ferner) was pretty disappointed in us and so were we.”
Added Ferner: “The first period, I think our guys were tentative to go out and play. They tried to be very physical with us and when that happens you need to make the puck do all the work. Even though it wasn’t what we felt was our typical game, we just needed to find a way to win tonight and we did that.”
The Vipers had more than a minute of 5-on-3 hockey late in the first period after Wolves’ captain Dustin Stevenson took an interference call with teammate Robert Monfore already off for holding. But the Vipers managed little in the way of offence.
Stevenson, a smooth skating defenceman who recently inked a three-year entry level contract with the Washington Capitals, delivered a crushing open-ice hit on the Vipers’ Pat McGillis early in the second period. McGillis left the ice to get stitches to his face, but returned later.
There was a trio of disputable goals in the game – referee Jeff Hopkins awarded two in Vernon’s favour, including Robinson’s second goal as he crashed the net in a goalmouth scramble. The other came at 7:48 of the third period when Viper defenceman Adam Thompson tapped in a loose puck to netminder Adam Bartko’s right (Danyluk left the game with an apparent leg injury at the end of the second period). Hopkins discussed the call with his linesmen before awarding the goal, earning a solid rebuke from the boisterous La Ronge cheering section.
Hopkins also waved off what might have been a possible La Ronge goal, as a pack of players jammed Gordon’s crease.
While probably frustrated by the calls, Ice Wolves’ head coach Bob Beatty didn’t dwell on it.
“That’s kind of like closing the gate after the cows get out. We could dispute it for a long time but I don’t think there’s any profit in that. We’ll take our lumps. Some games you get breaks and some games you don’t and hopefully we’re due for some.”
Beatty praised his squad for staying focused and for pressing the action in the third period.
“We probably outplayed them in the third period and the first period was give or take. We slowed our pace a little bit at times in the second and you can’t do that against a club that’s that explosive. But overall I’m pretty happy with the effort.”
Lindensmith added a consolation goal late in the third period, but the Vipers were solid defensively to close out the game.
“We gave it a 40-minute effort, but facing the RBC champs you’ve got to give it a full 60 all game,” said Lindensmith, a Michigan product.
If the Wolves face Vernon later in the tournament, Lindensmith says there will be more physical play in store for the Snakes.
“We just got to do what we did in the first period and just pound ’em. They’re not used to the physical play of the SJ(HL), so we just gotta pound them and keep it up for all 60 (minutes).”
After an average game against Dauphin, Gordon rebounded with a solid 24-save showing against the Ice Wolves. His most acrobatic save came when he partially blocked a shot as La Ronge charged in on the rush, and then dove back into his crease to glove the puck as it arced back towards the goaline.
In the Sunday afternoon game, Zak Zaremba and Scott Arnold each had a hat trick and two assists as the Brockville Braves hammered the Oakville Blades 11-2.
The Vipers have a rest day Monday before resuming action Tuesday (noon PT) against the Blades.