After two weekends of B.C. Hockey League play, there are two ways of looking at the Vernon Vipers’ performance.
Some will see a team that has earned points in three of four games, including a salvaged point in Saturday’s 6-5 double overtime loss to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in their home opener.
Others will note the Vipers (1-1-1-1) have just one win in those four outings, and perhaps feel they should have closed out the win Saturday after building a two-goal cushion in front of 1,725 fans at Kal Tire Place. The Snakes’ coaching staff is leaning towards the latter viewpoint.
“Our breakdowns turn into goals,” said Vipers’ associate coach Kris Mallette.
“At this point in the season, you try to limit those as much as possible, but with the parity in this league, when you screw up they’re going to make you pay.
“The effort was there, we just have some work to do. That comes down to not cheating over the puck and buying in in the defensive zone.”
Alex Gillies, a Vernon product, continued his early-season tear for Salmon Arm (2-1-0-1), collecting his hat trick in style, sneaking the puck five-hole on netminder Austin Smith on a breakaway 1:17 into the second OT.
Vernon had all kinds of pressure in Salmon Arm’s zone before turning the puck over at the blueline. Viper forward Mason Blacklock was all alone in front of the Salmon Arm net, but sent his shot wide.
“I’m gonna need an ice bath,” smiled a fatigued Gillies, who earned BCHL Player of the Week honours for his five-goal weekend against Vernon (his seven snipes are tops in the BCHL).
“It was a tiring shift. I was out there for over a minute for sure. I was about to change but it popped out perfect to me so I had to take it.
“It’s a great feeling. There’s always a lot of pressure coming back home, but all I really care about right now is the win.”
The Vipers got on the board first as Jason Bird wired a high point shot, glove side, past a screened Angus Redmond. Ryley Booth, a call-up from the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights, set him up nicely with a pass along the blueline.
Jeff Kennedy, a rugged winger out of Terrace, replied for the ‘Backs later in the period, parking himself on Smith’s doorstep and deflecting a Thomas Plese shot from the top of the circle at 16:40.
Vernon pushed ahead with goals five minutes apart in the second period. Mark Hamilton, a Boston-area product, pocketed his first BCHL goal at 3:07 by firing a point shot through traffic just as a Vernon man advantage had expired.
Craig Martin netted the 3-1 goal as he crashed the net to bury a rebound on a 3-on-2 with Blacklock and Dallas Calvin.
The SilverBacks responded with three straight goals, starting with Plese (second star) converting from the slot with five minutes to play in period two.
Harlan Orr, who hijacked Bird at the blueline as he came out of the penalty box, set up fellow Vernon product Alex Jewell for a partial breakaway in the opening minute of the third period. Smith stopped Jewell, but Orr stuck with the play and eventually fooled the Vernon tender with a harmless wrister from a crazy angle for the equalizer.
“We weren’t there in the first period at all, but we got good goaltending again and that’s what you need,” said Salmon Arm head coach Troy Mick. “We weathered the storm and we kind of got more confident as the game went on.”
Just after Vernon had killed the first penalty of a 5-on-3, Gillies went to the net and deposited the rebound off an Evan Anderson shot at 10:15.
Vernon answered just 18 seconds later as Dexter Dancs corralled a floating point shot and deftly tucked it behind Redmond (37 saves).
“It was a frustrating finish, but we played pretty well,” said Dancs. “We could tighten up on our dee zone because there were some goals we’d like to have back. It’s not a bad start, but we can definitely build on it.”
Gillies, from Landon Smith, appeared to put the game away at 17:51, but Blacklock (second star) forced OT as he scored on a rush with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. Smith (29 saves) was pulled for the extra attacker.
The Vipers had a glorious chance for the win in the double OT as Gillies was called for a minor, which results in an automatic penalty shot at 3-on-3. Demico Hannoun’s snap shot was gloved down by Redmond.
The Vipers visited the West Kelowna Warriors (2-2) Tuesday night at Royal LePage Place. They host the Merritt Centennials (1-3) Saturday (7 p.m.) at Kal Tire Place.
The Warriors shaded Merritt 4-3 Saturday at Nicola Valley Arena.