Head coach Jason Williamson said the Vernon Vipers are prepared to win one-goal hockey games, and they are proving it.
Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime result against the host Merritt Centennials was the Snakes’ third foray into extra time, and fifth time in seven B.C. Hockey League games they have been on the right side of a one-goal decision.
The 7-0 Vipers are the only remaining undefeated BCHL team and occupy first place, two points clear of the Coastal-leading Powell River Kings (6-2).
“In all three (OT) games we didn’t play well, but we found ways to win. All three of those games were probably our worst games of the season,” said Williamson.
Netminder Kirby Halcrow made 39 saves to earn first star before 640 fans in the postage-stamp sized Nicola Valley Arena. With pretty much anything over the redline considered a scoring chance, the Centennials, seventh in the Interior at 1-4-1-2, fired at Halcrow from all angles.
“It might have taken a few minutes to adjust (to the rink), but I settled down after that,” said Halcrow, 20. “It makes it easier with them shooting from out there, and the guys were letting me see the puck, so that was good.”
And when Merritt did get traffic in front of towering netminder, Halcrow added: “I was fighting through screens and looking around guys to make room to see the puck.”
Mike Zalewski, with his team-leading sixth goal, buried the winner in the second OT period after a nice feed from Darren Nowick. Defenceman Luke Juha made a good heads-up play to spring them on a 2-on-1.
“We were opportunistic. They’re good at home and they threw everything at the net, but Kirby was good,” said Williamson.
“There was no real structure out there, but we found a way to win. Our veterans got it done again.”
After a scoreless first period, the Vipers struck in the second frame when John Knisley carried the puck wide and fired on net. The rebound landed on Nowick’s stick for an open net at 6:50.
Alex Hagen, with his second of the season, made it 2-0 with a crafty play, surprising netminder Lino Chimienti (28 saves) with a shot off a faceoff.
Dustin Lebrun put Merritt on the board three minutes into the third period as he stepped into a loose puck off a faceoff to beat Halcrow high glove side.
Later in the third, after some good movement by the Cents’ on a powerplay, Reece Wilcox walked in from the point and beat Halcow through traffic to force OT.
“It was nice to finally have an effort that I feel we’re capable of. The result was unfortunate, but it was a start,” said Merritt head coach Luke Pierce.
“I thought that Halcrow was outstanding. And they capitalized basically on the one opportunity they got in the OT. You really have to try and minimize the mistakes you make against good teams like that.”
The Vipers are in Chilliwack to face the 3-1 Chiefs Friday night at Prospera Place, and end a three-game road schedule Saturday against the Penticton Vees at South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees, second in the Interior at 5-1-0-1, have averaged seven goals a game over their last four games. They fell 5-4 in overtime to the Prince George Spruce Kings Saturday night.
SNAKE BITES: Vernon native Conor Barrie recorded 29 stops and his first-ever BCHL win as the Surrey Eagles outlasted the host Nanaimo Clippers 4-3 Sunday night at Frank Crane Arena…Former Viper Trevor Fitzgerald leads the Clippers in scoring with four goals and five assists in seven games.