Vernon Vipers’ goalie Blake Voth smothers a shot from Nanaimo Clippers’ forward Myles Fitzgerald as defenceman Brett Corkey (#3) clears the front of the crease during the third period of Sunday’s B.C. Hockey League game in Nanaimo. Vernon won 3-2.

Snakes steal Interior pole position

Darren Nowick can’t seem to buy a goal, even when he really scores one.

After going 35 B.C. Hockey League games without finding the net, the speedy rookie forward got snubbed on the scoresheet as the Vernon Vipers skated to a 1-1 draw with the host Alberni Valley Bulldogs in B.C. Hockey League play Saturday night at Weyerhaeuser Arena.

Nowick, a Long Beach, Calif. native, pounced on a loose puck after the Vipers’ Trevor Fitzgerald and Bulldog netminder Frank Slubowski raced for defenceman Stevie Weinstein’s bank pass off the sidewall.

The boxscore credits Mike Zalewski for the goal, but Nowick and the Vipers know different.

“It feels good to have finally scored,” said Nowick. “Stevie went over and got me the puck.”

Added Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner: “The guys were excited for him.”

The Vipers, now first in the Interior at 20-8-3-6, pocketed seven of eight points on their four-game Vancouver Island tour, and are undefeated in their last nine games. Their last game before the Christmas break goes Friday against the Penticton Vees at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

“It feels like our team is coming together, which is good because we’re going down the home stretch towards playoffs,” said Nowick.

The Vipers dominated the Bulldogs (15-14-3-2) for much of the game, outshooting them 42-27. However, Alberni salvaged a point when second star Casey Bailey (15th goal) pushed Vernon to their league-high 13th overtime game by scoring a powerplay goal early in the third period.

“We might play 72 games the way we’re going. We’ve probably played two more games because of overtime,” said Ferner.

Slubowski recorded 41 stops to earn first star, while Viper netminder Kirby Halcrow made 26 saves and helped his team survive a four-minute penalty kill in OT to take third star.

“We were pretty determined there (on penalty kill). We had a lot of blocked shots,” said Ferner.

The Vipers, who went 0-for-8 on the man advantage against Alberni, will be without defenceman Philip Patenaude for the foreseeable future as he sustained a concussion when he was boarded by Tyler Berkholtz late in the first period.

Ferner felt referee Steven Bratt should have assessed Berkholtz a major on the play, instead of a minor.

“The ref made a mistake. It’s his responsibility to make those calls.”

With Patenaude out and the Vipers down to four d-men, Nowick showed his versatility by taking a turn on the blueline Sunday afternoon, helping the Vipers shade the Nanaimo Clippers 3-2 at Frank Crane Arena.

“I have played defence before (last year with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings), but I had to get used to the transitions and skating backwards again,” grinned Nowick.

After Victor Newell (4th goal) opened the scoring in the first period, Viper captain Dave Robinson (18th and 19th) jumpstarted his team with a pair of goals less than three minutes apart midway through the second. The Vernon native’s second was a beauty as he danced in on the rush and wired a shot post-and-in on Charles-Andre Pelletier (26 saves).

Vernon’s Blake Voth recorded 14 saves for the win.

Said Clippers’ head coach Bill Bestwick: “We learned a real valuable lesson from what I think is the best team we’ve seen this year. They beat us in every category – they scored more goals, they limited our scoring chances, they moved the puck well, they were hard on pucks.”

Added Newell: “We weren’t in their face as much as we should have been … We gave them a little too much space, a little too much respect, and we realized that.”

The Clippers’ Leo Fitzgerald (5th) made it 2-2 early in the third period, but Zach McPhee fired the winner, his second goal of the season, at 9:50. Viper forward Todd Skirving applied a solid forecheck to generate the play.

“It was a great effort,” said Ferner. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our dee, and I also put a lot of onus in that game on our forwards.”

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