That storybook 7-0 start by the Vernon Vipers must seem like a vague dream right about now.
The injury-plagued Snakes watched their nightmare losing streak climb to seven games with a 3-2 loss to the league-leading Penticton Vees Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Five of the seven B.C. Hockey League losses have been one-goal decisions, leaving Vernon third in the Interior Conference at 13-10-0-2. They will look to get their holiday mojo going with their annual teddy bear toss tonight at Wesbild Centre as they host the second-place Merritt Centennials (14-7-1-4) in the first game of a home-and-home series. They visit the Cents Saturday.
“Not a lot of us have experience in something like this,” said Vipers’ head coach/GM Jason Williamson. “You look back at the seven games and there’s only one game where we didn’t have a good game or a chance to win. We’re just losing those one-goal games.
“It’s tough to take, but once we get healthy we’ll be fine.”
The Vipers were without injured defencemen Ryan Renz (whiplash), Luke Juha (concussion) and Max Mowat (whiplash), and forwards Colton Sparrow (concussion) and captain Pat McGillis (ankle) Wednesday. They took the early lead when forward Peter McMullen got a stick on a Brett Corkey point shot to beat netminder Michael Garteig at 8:54 of the first period.
McMullen, a New Jersey native, playing on a line with Ben Gamache and Jedd Soleway, ended the night with a Gordie Howe hat trick, earning an assist on Gamache’s first-ever BCHL goal and then getting into a third-period scrap with gritty Penticton captain Logan Johnston.
“He high sticked me and I just went after him. I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t realize at the time he was one of the tougher guys in the league,” said McMullen, who was disappointed the Vipers couldn’t hang on for the win.
“We’re not satisfied with the outcome. We had the lead and we blew it. We’ve played well the last few games. We probably should have won two of them.”
Penticton responded when Viper d-man Marc Hetnik put a hand on the puck in the crease during a goal-mouth scramble, resulting a penalty shot. BCHL scoring leader Connor Reilly (23-28-51 in 27 games) converted.
Gamache, acquired earlier this week from the AJHL Okotoks Oilers, redirected a pass from McMullen to complete the first-period scoring.
“He was good – full of energy, as advertised. An older body that just knows how to play the game,” said Williamson of Gamache.
Second star Mario Lucia, second on the Vees with 46 points in 23 games, buried a cross-box one-timer feed from Reilly on the powerplay to equalize late in the second period.
Reilly’s twin brother, first star Ryan Reilly, supplied the winner five minutes into the third period after a shot hit Viper d-man Geoff Crisfield and dropped right on his stick for a tap-in.
“We had a lot of chances obviously. I think 40 shots at the end of the game. It wasn’t going in but we never gave up and finally I just kind of tipped it in front and it came right to me again and I scored,” said Ryan.
“Once we started figuring out that we need to drive the net more, we started getting better chances. He (Vernon netminder Kirby Halcrow) was giving up a lot of rebounds.”
Halcrow recorded 35 saves to earn second star in front of 1,600 fans.
Said Williamson: “We just kept them to the outside and they shot the puck from everywhere. Kirby was good, but our guys didn’t give up any second or third opportunities.
“We changed our game-plan a little bit. We tried to slow the game down knowing the amount of bodies we had.”
Garteig finished with 15 saves as the Vipers managed just three shots in the second period.
SNAKE BITES: Williamson dealt the rights to 1992-born forward Alex Hagen to the Surrey Eagles in exchange for future considerations before the Dec. 1 BCHL trade deadline. He dressed call-up players Chris Derochie (KIJHL Beaver Valley Nitehawks), Thomas Swales (North Okanagan Knights) and Ryan Edwards (Nitehawks)…The Vipers are hoping to have Mowat, Renz and Sparrow back in the lineup for tonight’s game against Merritt…Rookie Vees’ forward Cody DePourcq has committed to the University of Denver Pioneers. The 16-year-old Penticton native, who played last season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy, has three goals and 12 points in 26 games… The Vipers have had the fewest powerplay opportunities (110) of any team in the BCHL. The Victoria Grizzlies lead the league with 165. The Vees, who boast the best powerplay efficiency (31.85 per cent), are second with 157 times on the man advantage…For the teddy bear toss, sponsored by Kiss-FM and Best Western Vernon Lodge, fans are encouraged to shower the ice with stuffed animals after the Vipers’ first goal. They will be donated to the Santa’s Toy Club. There will also be a donation box at the front door for the food bank.