As the new-look Vernon Vipers head into the second third of the B.C. Hockey League season, they have learned a few things about their identity.
They are a speedy team built on a quick transition and relentless forecheck. The Vipers also struggle in overtime – lost 3-2 to the Victoria Grizzlies Saturday night at Wesbild Centre for their fourth OT loss – and their powerplay needs some tweaking.
Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner, who often goes with three forwards and one d-man in overtime, doesn’t see the point in settling for a tie, even if it means they might be a little more exposed defensively.
“It’s an opportunity to get an extra point. We’re not going to sit back, especially at home,” he said.
After 21 BCHL games, Ferner believes his young squad is a little ahead of expectations in terms of development, and he likes the effort he is seeing on a nightly basis.
“I like the way our group is playing right now,” he said. “It’s being accountable for your work. Your work ethic is not negotiable. We expect guys to empty the tank every night, and for the most part they are.”
Vernon, tied for second spot in the Interior with Trail Smoke Eaters, at 11-5-1-4, heads to Merritt Friday night before hosting the Prince George Spruce Kings Saturday night. The Penticton Vees lead the conference by two points.
Said Ferner: “As we found out, anybody can beat anybody. There are no freebies this year. We’ve been in a lot of close games and that is a very good thing for our group.”
The Grizzlies got a 40-save showing from goalie Matt Ginn, who stoned Dylan Walchuk, Malcolm Lyles and Bryce Kakoske in the overtime.
Ginn, 19, is a Lindsay, Ont. product who played for Team Canada East in last year’s World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Summerside, PEI.
“He has been our rock all year, he’s pretty special,” said Victoria assistant coach Brad Cook, who helped the Vernon Vipers win the 1996 Royal Bank Cup. “He’s going to have some well-deserved rest I think.”
Ginn made 34 saves Friday night as the Grizz stopped the host Trail Smoke Eaters 5-2, and came in to relieve rookie Tanner McGaw after the sixth Salmon Arm goal in a 10-7 loss Wednesday night.
“He’s a helluva player,” said d-man Taylor Love, traded to the Grizzlies by Vernon earlier in October. “He’s excellent and that was a good win.”
Lyles and Mike Zalewsky for the Vipers, and Joel Lowry and Madison Dias for the Grizzlies, traded regulation goals before 1,900 fans. Victoria d-man Sean Robertson scored his second goal of the season on a backhander that fooled Blake Voth at 3:58 of double overtime.
Love, a California product with 2-3-5 in 11 games with Victoria, gave the Grizzlies a brief scouting report on the Snakes.
“I just told them they work hard, they’re one of the hardest-working teams in the Interior Conference and will battle all the way through the third period.”
On the move to Victoria, Love said: “My role is just to be a physical guy, make a good first pass and battle hard…Yes, I was disappointed (with the trade), but everything happens for a reason and things are working out. I like it in Victoria.”
Cook, a married father of two who played 12 years of minor pro, also works as head coach with the hockey academy at Spectrum Secondary in Victoria.
“It was nice to come in during hockey season and it was nice to see that banner that we won in ‘96,” said Cook, a smooth-skating d-man in his day. “I’d never saw it before. What a great atmosphere here. We were a tired bunch here and so were they. It was two teams trying to gut it out and what a fun way to finish.”