The good news is the Vernon Vipers have one final home game before they head to Alberta to finish their Doyle Cup regional hockey series with the Spruce Grove Saints.
The bad news is that happened as a result of a 3-2 loss to the Saints in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.
Had Vernon swept the first two games, they would have headed to Spruce Grove for Game 3 (and the rest of the series), but because they split, the third game goes Sunday night (7 p.m.) at Wesbild.
The winner will represent the Pacific region at the RBC national Junior A championships, April 30-May 8 in Camrose, Alta.
For the second straight night, the Vipers got off to a solid start, outshooting the Saints 14-5 in the first period. Vernon defenceman Malcolm Lyles opened the scoring with a powerplay goal late in the period, beating netminder Vincenzo Marozzi with a slap shot from outside the blueline. Brett Corkey and Mike Zalewski drew the assists.
“He was cheating, so I just thought I would throw it near the net and he put it in himself,” said the explosive-skating blueliner.
In the final minute of the first period, the Vipers’ David Robinson, lingering at Spruce Grove’s blueline, took a stretch pass and went in alone on Marozzi (37 saves, first star) but rang his shot off the post.
The Saints played with urgency in the second period as Josh Keizer tested netminder Kirby Halcrow’s glove hand 45 seconds into the frame.
After Vernon took its second straight penalty in the period, the Saints made them pay as forward Nicholas Bourgeois corralled a loose puck off a face-off and buried it five-hole on Halcrow (26 saves) before he could get set.
Spruce Grove’s Brett Switzer, a former Viper, gave his team its first lead in the series when he roofed the rebound off a point shot at 10:25.
“He’s a big goalie, so we just got to make sure you put as much on it as you can, as high as you can,” said Switzer, who played half a season with Vernon in the 2008-09 campaign before being traded.
“It’s a good feeling being here. Being traded, you always feel like you have something to prove when that happens. A win sure makes that feel better.”
The Saints made it 3-1 after Vernon d-man Ryan Renz turned the puck over trying to make an outlet pass at his blueline. Rugged winger Scott Allen (third star) cut into the slot and fired against the grain, burying his shot just inside the post at 15:18.
Vernon’s Patrick McGillis (second star) pulled his team within a goal on the next shift, beating Marozzi through traffic.
Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner liked parts of his team’s play, but wanted a more consistent effort throughout.
“You can’t expect to win games at this time of year when you only play parts of 40 minutes,” he said.
“It got away from us a little bit. When you’re turning pucks over in the neutral zone, especially against a team like that, odds are you’re going to spend a lot of time in your own end.”
The Vipers generated several scoring chances with Halcrow pulled for the extra attacker, the best being a Dylan Walchuk one-timer set up by Bryce Kakoske.
“We were under siege, but he (Marozzi) held the fort for us,” said Saints’ head coach Jason Mckee.
“We got the compete level back in our game from all the guys. The guys deserved the win tonight; they worked hard.”
Added Lyles: “We had lots of chances at the end of the game. We certainly had the momentum, but we ran out of time.”