One Vernon Viper hockey team went away for Christmas. A different one came back.
After enduring a discouraging four-week spell in the B.C. Hockey League, the Snakes appeared to regain a little bit of their mojo, heading into the break with a pair of much-needed wins over the Trail Smoke Eaters and upstart Chilliwack Chiefs.
The Salmon Arm SilverBacks caught the Vipers still in holiday mode Thursday night, cruising to a 7-4 win in front of 1,425 fans at the Shaw Centre (formerly Sunwave Centre).
The two teams tangled again Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
“From our goaltender out we’ve got to be better,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson, who spent part of his holiday scouting the annual Mac’s Midget AAA tourney in Calgary.
“We were standing around a lot and we just didn’t have that usual spark in our game. We couldn’t stem the tide and we couldn’t get a save when we needed a save and it just snowballed on us.”
Vernon stormed the ‘Backs early, racking up a 3-1 lead, however the hosts replied later in the frame to tie the game before the intermission.
Ben Gamache, with his fifth goal, got a stick on Dylan Walchuk’s point shot to open the scoring at 2:37. Vernon scoring leader Mike Zalewski (18th goal, 41st point) made it 2-0 on a one-timer that beat netminder Kurt Williams blocker side during a powerplay. Adam Tambellini set up the play after he circled behind the net. Aaron Hadley drew the other assist at 7:00.
Just 27 second later, the Vipers got caught scrambling in their zone and defenceman Bennett Hambrook, who played a handful of games with Vernon at the beginning of last season, made them pay with his second goal of the year.
“We turned the puck over at our blueline and that’s why it ended up in the back of our net,” said Williamson.
“We started well and then just thought it was going to be easy. We just didn’t have a lot of jam.”
Darren Nowick (22nd) restored the two-goal cushion on Vernon’s second straight powerplay, redirecting a slick slap pass from d-man Brett Corkey midway through the first.
Vernon went 2-for-4 on the man advantage, while the Gorillas went 1-for-4.
Singles by first star Brendan Kennedy, with his first of the season, and Kody Dhaliwal, with his ninth, rounded out the first-period offence.
The Vipers, fifth in the Interior Conference at 16-13-1-2, collapsed in the second period and were outshot 13-5 (31-28 overall). Goals by second star Morgan Zulinick (15th), Brett Knowles (10th, powerplay) and Alex Gillies (4th) made it five unanswered for the SilverBacks.
Gillies, a 16-year-old Vernon product, relishes Salmon Arm’s encounters with Vernon.
“It’s really nice to beat your hometown, especially after you’ve grown up watching them play,” said Gillies. “It’s different, but I like it.”
Coupled with a pair of 3-2 overtime wins against Vernon in late November, the SilverBacks have won three straight against the Snakes and lead the season series 3-2. Gillies missed both OT wins recovering from a shoulder injury. He returned to the lineup in mid-December.
“It’s terrible to watch from the stands,” said Gillies, whose brother, Chris, plays with the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights.
Williamson pulled starter Kirby Halcrow after the second period. The Grouard, Alta. product allowed six goals on 20 shots. Danny Todosychuk gave up one goal on 11 shots in 20 minutes of relief work.
“Some (goals against) were blatant turnovers, but at the same time, when you need a save you need a save,” said Williamson.
Tambellini rounded out Vernon’s attack early in the third period, using his quick release to beat Williams (24 saves) point blank. Colton Sparrow and Marc Hetnik earned the assists.
“A guy like that, any time he gets some time and space in the slot, he’s gonna make the goalie pay,” said Williamson of Tambellini.
The Vipers visit the first-place Penticton Vees (30-3-0-2), winners of 18 straight games, Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre. They host the Victoria Grizzlies (17-18) Friday at Wesbild.