Gord Montgomery/Sun Media
Now the Vernon Vipers and the Spruce Grove Saints know how other teams lined up to face them during their league championship season feel – like you’re looking down the barrel of a loaded gun, or in this case, a powerful offensive weapon.
For the B.C. and Alberta reps in the Doyle Cup Championship, it must have been much like looking into a mirror as they traded goals and highlight-reel plays in what turned into a 6-5 overtime win for the Saints.
While the goal scorers owned this outing, it was the Saints’ goalie, Vincenzo Marozzi, who stole the show. He made a sparkling leg save on Mike Collins with three seconds left in the third period when the Viper forward found himself alone at the side of the net with the puck on his stick.
Then, in the first minute of the OT period, Marozzi threw up his glove hand to deflect a shot by Sahir Gill.
Shortly after that, Scott Allen, only 29 seconds into a powerplay, put the puck past Vernon netminder Graeme Gordon, off a shot from the blueline by Dillon Simpson.
Given the result, it was understandable that the Vipers bench boss, Mark Ferner, wasn’t overly pleased, especially since his club appeared the stronger of the two on the night.
“We got exactly what we deserved,” he said outside a deathly silent dressing room. “We didn’t look after the puck very well. We didn’t win races, we didn’t win battles.”
The Vipers came out flying, catching the Saints flat-footed and jumped to a 1-0 lead only 1:08 in when Cole Ikkala converted a great feed from defenceman Curtis Gedig on a 2-on-1 break.
The Saints came back though, when they scored with the man advantage, with Adam Henderson poking home a loose puck.
Vernon took the lead again, when strong work behind the Grove net resulted in Braden Pimm scoring.
Again, the Grove came back, when Carson Cooper scored with only 21 seconds left in the period.
In the second frame, the Grove got their legs under them and began to take some flow away from the Snakes, but again, Vernon took the lead on a powerplay marker by Cory Kane.
As had been the case all night, the Saints answered quickly with Nate Fleming scoring with a man advantage.
The home team then took their first lead when Fleming banged in a loose puck to complete the second-period scoring.
Early in the third, the Vipers caught a break when the Saints’ Tyler Hart took a puck in the face, and the play continued as he lay bleeding near the crease, and Kellen Jones made no mistake beating Marozzi.
The Saints retook the lead when Tim Nolte scored, but the Vipers sent the game to OT when Connor Jones scored on another powerplay.
Grove coach Steve Hamilton wasn’t cutting his club any slack despite the win, saying they played “a gross first period. It was lackluster and in all honesty, I thought they were a little bit star struck.
“We were standing around waiting to see how things were going to go, and when we want to see how things are going to go, typically they don’t go well.”
As has been the case with the Saints this year, they found a way to win. Perhaps more accurately, Marozzi, who along with teammate Travis Rolheiser helped the Saints set an AJHL record by allowing only 99 goals in 60 games, found a way to skate off with the victory.
“Vinny finds a way to win,” his coach said. “We asked that of him and he gave it to us.
“I thought we were fortunate to get out of the first period 2-2, and later we found a way to generate some offence.
“That’s a talented, talented team we’re playing but we found a way to defend against them.”
On the other side of the rink, the end of the game diagnosis wasn’t much different.
“I was very disappointed in the way we played, to be quite honest with you,” Ferner said. “That wasn’t your typical playoff game, 6-5. To give up six goals on 31 shots; we just need to be more desperate.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he hastily added. “We had a good effort but we turned the puck over way too often.”
Ferner said his club will stick with what got them to this dance and go from there.
“We just need better efforts. That’s what I don’t understand.”
What the two teams understand after Game 1 in the best-of-seven is that it’s much like playing against themselves, so any changes that may be made should be simply a case of looking in the mirror and going from there.