The Vernon Vipers are happy to keep a lower profile in the B.C. Hockey League these days.
As the two-time defending Royal Bank Cup champions, they usually find teams gunning for them on a nightly basis as it is, so to not be the clear-cut favourite for a change it is a bit of a luxury.
That all might change if they keep playing like they have been over the last two weeks. With four straight wins, and points in their last five games, the Vipers (10-8-2-6) all of sudden find themselves two points back of the first-place Penticton Vees (23-10-1-1) in the Interior Conference.
“We’re just minding our own business, and going about our business,” smiled Viper head coach Mark Ferner, after his club dismantled the host Victoria Grizzlies 4-0 Friday night at Bear Mountain Arena.
Netminder Blake Voth turned aside 19 shots to collect his second shutout of the season before 1,368 fans, leaving Ferner somewhat perplexed when his tender didn’t merit a game star.
“It’s too bad. He made some good saves in the second period,” said Ferner.
Despite the Herbert, Sask. native’s solid performance, Ferner opted to utilize his netminding tandem, playing Kirby Halcrow Saturday night as the Snakes visited the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (15-14-2-2). They end their four-game Vancouver Island tour today (3 p.m.) against the Nanaimo Clippers (17-13-1-3).
“It’s healthy competition. Kirby is going to play (Saturday night) even though Blake pitched that shutout,” said Ferner. “The players know it, both goalies know it, and they guys want to play well in front of both of them.”
The Vipers got off to an idyllic road start Friday night when Marcus Basara (8th goal) opened the scoring at 4:30 of the first period, assisted by first star Dylan Walchuk and defenceman Brett Corkey.
Mike Zalewski (9th goal) made it 2-0 27 second later as he capitalized on a solid effort by Walchuk, beating netminder Matt Ginn (28 saves) from the slot.
Realizing it was the Grizzlies’ first game back after an Interior road swing, Ferner knew it was important to pounce on them early.
“We’ve been there, we know what it’s like and that’s why we wanted to get out to a good start.”
Added second star Zalewski: “We attacked from the start and they couldn’t handle it.”
Zalewski, a New Hartford, NY product, said Vernon’s recent string of success is due to a change in mind set.
“Nobody is going to lay down because we’re the Vernon Vipers, and we’ve finally figured that out and it has been good for us. We realize we have to work for our wins.”
Bryce Kakoske (12th) put Vernon in full control with a shot through traffic from the top of the circle on a second-period powerplay.
Walchuk, with his 17th goal, tying him with captain Dave Robinson for the team lead, capped off the Viper offence late in the second period. Zalewski and John Knisley showed a lot of hustle along the sidewall to generate the scoring chance.
Vernon didn’t ease up in the third period, and Ferner noted the score could have been even more lopsided.
“To outshoot a team 14-2 in the third period in their own rink, you could see they were getting frustrated.
“We just kept going after we got those first two goals. We were happy with the result, obviously, but also with the way we played.”
A trio of teams – Vees, Salmon Arm SilverBacks and Trail Smoke Eaters – have each held first place in the Interior in the last month. It has only helped keep the Vipers under the radar said Ferner.
“It’s too close, it really is. There is not one team that everybody knows is going to run away with it. (Stronger) teams are still winning, but it’s closer.
“It’s good for our guys that we’re in so many close games.”