Game 4 of the World Series was on TV. It was a gorgeous sunny October day. Both teams were battling bus cramps and sleep deprivation.
All the symptoms for one of those B.C. Hockey League Sunday snoozers at Wesbild Centre.
Instead, the announced crowd of 1,300 witnessed one of the best tilts of the year with the Vernon Vipers holding back the stubborn Prince George Spruce Kings 4-3 in a 4 p.m. matinee.
“I was surprised with the pace out there and it was a great game,” said Viper winger Marcus Basara, who scored once. “PG has a good team this year. They surprised me. They’ve got that one line that does a lot of the damage and their d-men can all contribute. They can beat you on any night and it was good for us to come out with the two points.”
The Vipers, who rallied to stop the host Trail Smoke Eaters 6-3 Saturday night, improved to 9-3, while the Spruce Kings fell to 6-5-0-1. Prince George, 6-2 losers to the Warriors the night before in Westside, share fourth spot in the Interior Conference with the Merritt Centennials.
First star Darren Nowick supplied his ninth and 10th goals of the season, while Colton Sparrow (4th) completed the Viper offence. Michael Colantone, Josh Gray and Jujhar Khaira replied for the Spruce Kings, who recorded a rarity, outshooting Vernon at home (33-31).
“They have a better team than they had last year by far and it was a good challenge,” said Viper d-man Max Mowat, who carried the puck with authority and drew two assists. “Because only four teams make the playoffs, everybody’s turning it on so you see everybody’s best games. Even early in the seasons, guys are going hard like it’s playoffs.”
The Spruce Kings gave up powerplay goals to Nowick and Basara to fall behind 3-2 midway through the second period.
“We didn’t play a full 60 tonight,” said Prince George monster, grizzly bearded blueliner Ben Woodley, who looks like he’s 30. “We made a couple of key turnovers and that can’t happen if we want to be a championship team this year. We didn’t tighten up down low, basically.”
Woodley, who says the Spruce Kings – who entertain Vernon Friday night – simply get used to all the road miles, isn’t surprised by the team’s early-season success.
“We know we have a skilled team in here and we know that we work hard and we can be a top team as long as we learn to play a full 60 minutes,” said the native of London, Ont.
Nowick went forehand, backhand, roof daddy after a feed by Mike Zalewski, for the winner with 2:06 remaining.
“I thought we played them straight up,” said Spruce Kings’ head coach Dave Dupas. “Even up, I think the chances were pretty equal. We made a couple of poor decisions with the puck, one on the backcheck and one on a turnover just inside their blueline which turned back into a 2-on-1 on us and that’s the game. We’re a young team and we have to learn those are decisions we can’t make if we wanna go far in this league.”
Nowick opened the scoring early in the first when he deftly deflected Mowat’s point shot with four seconds left in a powerplay. Zalewski drew the other assist.
Colantone, an Arizona product who pretty much won the lottery when he landed on the league’s premier line with Khaira and Paul DeJersey after being traded by the Victoria Grizzlies, equalized when he beat Kirby Halcrow top shelf, in tight, after a feed by DeJersey.
Sparrow finished off a 2-on-1 with Alex Hagen into an empty net as Prince George goalie Kirk Thompson was focused on Hagen. Basara got his second snipe of the season on a powerplay seven minutes later, burying a rebound into another empty net after a point blast by Mowat.
Basara, who struck the post with eight minutes left in the third, was beginning to feel like Nowick has somehow cursed his composite stick.
“It’s good to finally get one there,” said the Coquitlam product. “I’ve had tons of chances in the last few games here and it’s tough when you’re battling for just a goal. I kept telling myself that once I get one, they’ll keep coming. It was good to kind of get a gift there today.”
Basara and Nowick were actually discussing snipe slumps earlier in the game.
“I keep that (Nowick’s skid last year) in mind. We laughed about my slump on the bench today. He said, ‘Go 37 games and then come and talk to me.’ And you look at him this year with 10 goals. He’s doing good. It’s just the way the game goes. As tough as it is when it’s happening, when you’re in a slump, it’ll come and now I’m looking to build off that and moving forward.”
Mowat was happy to see Basara bag a big goal.
“That’s good for his confidence. I got a helper on that one so he can thank me later.”
Woodley moved down low and hit affiliate Josh Gray in the slot, where Gray converted with a high wrister, pulling Prince George within one at 11:55 of the second. With Thompson on the bench for a sixth attacker, Khaira scored on a scramble with 28 seconds to play.
It was the second time this season Vernon has recorded a tight, one-goal win over Prince George.
“They gain confidence when they come in here and play a team like this on their home ice and go head to head with them,” said Dupas.
Adam Tambellini (2), Nowick (2), Sparrow (1+2) and Hagen scored as the Vipers iced Trail. Danny Todosychuk made 20 saves for Vernon.