It was a battle between two goal-challenged teams going in opposite directions in the B.C. Hockey League.
And it was a defenceman – 18-year-old Shane Hanna – who grabbed the scoring spotlight with a deuce as the Salmon Arm SilverBacks grounded the Vernon Vipers 3-1 Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.
The savvy Hanna leads the SilverBacks with 10 goals and 40 points and was easily the most dominant player on the ice, controlling the puck pretty much every time it came his way. Vernon product Harlan Orr, with a top-shelf beauty from the left side, supplied the other Salmon Arm snipe (his seventh of the season).
“Shane Hanna might be the best player in the league, value-wise,” said SilverBacks’ head coach Scott Robinson. “There might be some guys who are maybe a little better offensively, but he brings it both ways. He’s a shutdown defenceman who scores.
“We’ve let him run with the puck all year long just to see what he could do and he keeps developing.”
The Vipers visited the second-place Merritt Centennials Tuesday before home tilts against the West Kelowna Warriors (Saturday night) and the Victoria Grizzlies (Sunday 4 p.m.).
The Vipers got off to a rare quick start with Mason Blacklock converting on a 2-on-1 rush just 33 seconds after the national anthem. Andrew Tegeler, who was one of Vernon’s best forwards on the night, and d-man Ryan Renz drew assists. Blacklock is the Snakes’ top pointgetter with 13-12-25.
Salmon Arm improved to 21-18-2-4 and 11 points ahead of the 15-21-0-7 Vipers in the Interior Division. The SilverBacks hold down the fourth and final playoff position in the division, five points back of the Warriors, 7-5 winners over the Chilliwack Chiefs. And while basic algebra does give the Vipers a slim chance at making the post-season, the Gorillas would have to implode and the Vipers would have to pretty much win out.
The SilverBacks, while not officially celebrating a playoff berth, did crank up the ghettoblaster before going on a cool-down run.
“It’s a pretty exciting mood because they’re (Vipers) big rivals of ours,” said Salmon Arm sniper Alex Gillies, another Vernon minor hockey grad. “Every time we play them, it’s a big game for us, no matter what the standings are. It’s always fun to come out on top.”
On Orr’s insurance goal, which came just seconds after Craig Martin of the Vipers left the penalty box, 3:53 into the third period, Gillies offered, with a smile: “That was a nice shot; it went right by my face, actually. It was a good, hard shot.”
The SilverBacks have allowed just five goals in their last four games, and while outplayed badly in the second period, found their stride in the final 20 minutes.
“We had a flat start, but we stuck to our systems and we’ve been good defensively all year so our offence backs us up when we play good defence,” said Orr.
Orr, who turns 18 later this month, wasn’t about to send the Vipers a sympathy card despite being a former fan.
“When I was younger, they were always in first place. I’m not feeling sorry for them though.”
Vernon outshot Salmon Arm 35-30 in a physical, tight-checking affair. Hanna, Orr and Viper captain Brett Corkey, who blocked numerous shots and carried the puck with authority, were the three stars. Both Adam Clark of the SilverBacks and Danny Todosychuk of the Vipers were solid in net.
Corkey logged heavy minutes after d-man Marc Hetnik left the game early after being slammed into the side boards by Alex Jewell, who was ejected with a check from behind major. Hetnik missed Tuesday’s game with a head injury.
“They’ve got a good goalie down there,” said Corkey. “Clark played a great game so kudos to him. We were battling in front of the net and just couldn’t get the bounces tonight. I hate to say it, but that’s kind of been the way our season’s been going, not getting the puck luck. You can’t always blame it on that though. I thought the effort was there tonight so you gotta be proud of that, but we’re definitely disappointed.”