Lots of shots against are fine with Vernon Vipers goalie Andrew Shortridge.
The 6-foot-3 product of Eagle River, Alaska made 46 saves to earn his first B.C. Hockey League shutout and first star honours as the Vipers blanked the Merritt Centennials 3-0 Friday night before 1,786 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Shortridge has allowed just three goals in his last three starts – all wins – while stopping 118 of 121 shots.
“It’s easier to get in a rhythm once you start to get a quick feel for the puck,” said Shortridge, who skated on one leg to the faceoff circle, pumping his stick, to celebrate the shutout.
“The boys again did a really good job of pushing everyone to the outside, giving me a one-and-done-type of shot, taking away the second and third opportunities.”
The two teams tangled again Saturday in Merritt.
Shortridge twice robbed Centennials forward Nick Fidanza with fabulous glove saves, each time waving the glove after at Fidanza as he skated past, and made arguably his best save of the game during a Merritt five-minute powerplay in the second period.
Shortridge slid over and got a pad on a one-timer by sniper Colin Grannary.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Andrew,” said Joe Sacco, the game’s third star.
“Tonight we gave up a lot of shots against but knowing he’s back there, you have the confidence to go make some of your own plays in the offensive zone. But you still want to be responsible and you still want to win it for him.”
After a scoreless first period, Sacco got the game winner at 9:47 of the second when he skated off the end boards and snuck a sharp-angle shot through Merritt goalie Cole Kehler’s pads for his fourth goal of the year.
“I noticed he was cheating a little bit,” said Sacco. “Jimmy Lambert was in the slot, I took a quick look and I noticed he was a little off-angle so I just threw it at the net and luckily it went in.”
Second star Hunter Zandee and Odeen Tufto added carbon-copy third period goals for the Vipers, who were outshot 46-31.
Zandee banged in a rebound of a Sacco shot for his second of the season at 3:37, and Tufto did likewise from a Steve Jandric shot at 11:24 for his team-leading seventh marker.
Merritt pulled Kehler with 2:30 left and had a powerplay in the final minutes, but could not beat Shortridge. The Vipers’ penalty killers threw themselves in front of every shot to help preserve the goose egg.
“It was a pretty tense game, especially toward the end,” said Sacco. “They’re a bigger team but I thought our team competed well and made a lot of smart plays. That was the big thing. We made a lot of simple plays.”
Vernon lost forward Riley Brandt in the second period after he pasted Merritt forward Tyler Ward to the boards but was assessed a five-minute charging major and a game misconduct. Ward was slow to get up but did return to the game.
Newly signed forward Christian Cakebread’s Vipers debut lasted all of 23 minutes.
Cakebread suffered a lower body injury when he fell into the boards at the Vernon bench early in the second period and did not return to the game.
He was seen walking out of the arena under his own power, and was expected to see a doctor Saturday.
Cakebread, an Arizona product, was playing on a line with Liam Finlay and Jimmy Lambert, and had several quality scoring chances. He also fed a sweet powerplay pass to Tufto in the slot, Tufto’s shot grazing the far post.
Forward Joe Cipollone, a New York native, has left the Vipers to play in the United States, though it’s not known at this time where Cipollone will land.
NHL Hall of Fame broadcaster and four-time Stanley Cup champion Howie Meeker dropped the ceremonial puck before the game. Meeker was the guest speaker at Saturday’s Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He was joined on the ice by longtime friend and inductee John Topping, the founder of the Funtastic slo-pitch tournament.
Friday’s win vaulted the Vipers (7-6-0-1) into third place in the Interior Division, one point ahead of the West Kelowna Warriors, two ahead of the Cents and one point back of second-place Salmon Arm.
The Silverbacks beat West Kelowna 4-3 Friday. The division-leading Penticton Vees won their 11th straight, 5-2 over the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings.
The Vipers host West Kelowna Friday and Victoria Grizzlies Saturday at Kal Tire Place.