The Vernon Vipers looked to be in danger of clocking out early Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.
Down a goal less than a minute into the game and still feeling the sting of a 3-2 loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters the night before, the Snakes were in need of a spark.
It came in the form of three board-shaking checks delivered by rookie Colton Sparrow during a 45-second shift midway through the first period. After that, the Vipers seemed to come alive, grounding Trail 3-1, their first win in three attempts against the Smokies this season.
With Viper forward Kyle Murphy serving a tripping penalty, the Smokies’ powerplay clicked just 31 seconds into the game as Sam Mellor’s backdoor pass found Travis St. Denis (14th goal) with a wide open net.
“Tough loss last game and then first shift they get a goal. They were probably a little deflated, but slowly we started to get a little momentum,” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner.
“When Colton got out there he was moving his feet and finishing his checks and it got some life back into us. That’s what Colton can bring, and we need more guys like that… who are taking time and space away and finishing their checks.”
Viper captain Dave Robinson (6th) barged his way to the front of the net, and with a Bobby Orr-esque dive across the crease, wrapped the puck around Trail netminder Matt Larose farside to equalize at 8:20.
The third-place Vipers (8-5-1-2) visit the first-place Penticton Vees (12-4) Friday night at South Okanagan Events Centre, and then return to Wesbild Saturday to entertain the Quesnel Millionaires (4-8-1). They will complete their three-game weekend with a matinee against the cellar-dwelling Prince George Spruce Kings (2-12-0-2) Sunday.
Given the success starting keeper Kiefer Smiley has had against the Vipers (2-0, 95.74 save percentage), Trail head coach Jim Ingram admitted he was tempted to give him both weekend starts.
“We talked about it… but I was happy with Matty (Larose). We needed to show that we’re confident in him, putting him against a very good team here. He gives us good games every night he’s in as well.”
Vernon defenceman Max Mowat, taking a cross-ice feed from Mike Zalewski, ripped a powerplay goal through traffic for the winner at 10:40 of the first period, his first goal of the season.
Mowat, a late cut by the WHL Kamloops Blazers, was thrilled to collect first star before a hometown crowd of 1,800 fans.
“It definitely feels good being at home and getting all that with all the fans going nuts,” smiled the Okanagan Rockets grad who moved to Vernon from Oakville, Ont. four years ago.
“It’s definitely staring into the big lights here. When you’re small and you’re looking at these guys, you’re like ‘Wow, I want to be like them,’ and next thing you know, down the road you are one of them. It’s a good feeling.”
Ferner sees plenty of potential in the 17-year-old blueliner.
“He just makes so many subtle plays out there that 17-year-olds shouldn’t be making. He’s got a lot of calmness to his game, he’s strong on his skates, he plays his 1-on-1s real well.”
Larose (15 saves) had to be sharp in the second period, stopping John Knisley with his glove on a 3-on-1 rush. Later in the frame, the Nanaimo product flashed his left pad to deny Zalewski, who had received a slick back-door pass from Stevie Weinstein from the point.
Vernon netminder Blake Voth (18 saves) came up with his best stop in the third period, making a sensational sprawling toe save on Mellor on a breakaway.
Viper d-man Malcolm Lyles (2nd) added some insurance in the third period as he stretched out to get his stick on a centering feed from Knisley at 12:16.
Trail defenceman Jake Baker, acquired from the Victoria Grizzlies as part of a three-player deal last week, liked how his new team battled to the end.
“They had it in our end pretty much the whole time, but we kind of took it to them after that. The third period we kind of dominated, but just couldn’t bury it,” said the 6-foot-6 Port Moody native.
SNAKE BITES: BCHL commissioner John Grisdale and executive director David Sales have each signed three-year contract extensions that will keep them at the league office through the 2013-14 season. Grisdale and Sales both joined the BCHL in 2003 and founded the league’s head office in Burnaby… Former Vipers Connor Jones (1+1), Kellen Jones (2A) and Scott Zurevinski (1A) propelled the NCAA Quinnipiac Bobcats to a 3-2 win over the Bentley Falcons in ECAC hockey action Friday night.