The Vernon Vipers were laughing and singing along to loud country music in their dressing room Wednesday night at Kal Tire Place.
It was a mild celebration considering they had just ambushed the last-place Surrey Eagles 9-0 before 1,450 fans.
Things get much tougher tonight when they visit the Merritt Centennials, 5-1 upset winners over the B.C. Hockey League leading Penticton Vees Wednesday. Vernon entertains the Powell River Kings Saturday (6 p.m.) before taking a two-week Christmas break.
Texan Thomas Aldworth pulled the hat trick as the Vipers built up period leads of 6-0 and 9-0 before head coach Mark Ferner played his third and fourth lines most of the final frame. Surrey dropped to 4-24-0-3.
“In the first period, we tried to keep them to the least number of shots as we could and then we kind of got away from that,” said Viper alternatre captain T.J. Dumonceaux, who earned 2+1. “It’s tough to get up for those games, but we’ll be ready for Merritt; it’s always hard to play there.”
The Eagles, who have 13 rookies after winning the Fred Page Cup two seasons ago, gave up six goals on 18 shots in the first period. The final shots tally was 44-33 Vernon.
Christian Shortt started in the Surrey net after being on injured reserve for almost seven weeks. The 19-year-old Ontario product, who was on NHL Central Scouting’s radar last year playing Prep school in New England, was relieved briefly by 16-year-old Daniel Davidson after Vernon went ahead 3-0 just seven minutes in.
Shortt played the final 40 minutes, earning a solid shutout in the third period when the shots were even at 12.
The Vipers, coming off an 8-2 thumping to the host Nanaimo Clippers in a Sunday matinee, got 1+2 from Liam Finlay and other goals from d-man Mitch Meek, Jagger Williamson and Riley Brandt.
Jarrod Schamerhorn pocketed his third shutout with 33 saves, including a handful of huge stops in the evenly-played third period. Vernon went 1-for-4 on the powerplay, while Surrey did not enjoy a man-advantage opportunity.
The Eagles, who made the return bus trip in the same day, looked decent in the early going but lost energy forward Spencer Meyer at 4:01 after he checked Brandt from behind into the side boards in Vernon’s zone. That left Surrey with 10 forwards, including two 17-year-old affiliates. Meyer, who turns 19 in January, joined Surrey 16 games ago after playing 32 games with three teams in the Western League.
Blaine Neufeld, 27, was promoted from director of player personnel to head coach when former NHLer Peter Schaefer stepped down after Chuck Westgard bought out his partners to become sole owner of the Eagles in May. The fallout from the move included Schaefer losing his title as team president.
Neufeld, a former WHL goalie who was a back-up with the 2007 Memorial Cup champion Vancouver Giants, says the Eagles are a fragile bunch who have lost a number of close games. He din’t like what he saw in warmup and realized the lengthy bus trip was foreign territory for his group.
“We assess things piece by piece,” said Neufeld, who hails from Winkler, Man. “We’re in a rebuild mode in terms of our culture and everything. Things you stress in that type of situation is attention to detail and preparation, and it wasn’t there today.”
Neufeld said the Eagles are not a team that holds a pity party after losses.
“You can’t expect it (morale) to be all that great. I think our kids do a fairly good job of kind of hitting the reset button. Nobody’s talking right now after this type of game and it’s not fun to be a part of. There’s a lot of anger and there should be. You don’t want kids to just roll over and allow it to happen.”
Big forward Quinn Lenihan, who netted 14 goals with the Junior B Grandview Steelers last year, said the Eagles are doing their best to be competitive.
“It’s a learning experience for everyone. We’re just trying to make the best of it, improve every week, week by week, game by game, shift by shift. That’s all you can do.”
He was impressed with his first glimpse of the Vipers, who have allowed just 91 goals, second best in the BCHL.
“Good speed, big physical players. I’d say they’re a bit faster, more skilled version of Langley.”
Vernon, not wishing to run up the score, played their young rookies a lot in the third period, trying hard to set up Linden Hora for his first career snipe. The Vipers, who are 9-2 in their last 11 games, improved to 21-9-1-2, 10 points behind the Vees.
First-line winger Liam Coughlin rang up three assists and leads the Vipers with 25 helpers. Aldworth has a team-high 24 snipes.
“Coach said to just keep playing hard no matter who we play,” said Coughlin. “We played well and hopefully it turns over into the two games we have this weekend games.”
Coughlin, an Oiler draft who gets regular calls from Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish, is anxious for a retreat at home in South Boston.
“I’m real excited to see my family, can’t wait. I’m taking my bag so I can get some skating in. The real hockey starts after Christmas. Last year when we came back, it was definitely more intense; everybody was going.”
SNAKE BITES: D Jordan Burns, a Vernon product, has been traded to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks for futures. Burns, a third-year veteran, has 3-13-16. He has a scholarship to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks next fall. Said Silverback head coach Brandon West: “Jordan is an experienced BCHL defenceman that brings a well-rounded game. I’ve coached Jordan in the past with the Okanagan Rockets (Major Midget) and it’s been great to watch him develop as a player. We’re confident he will have an immediate impact on our team.”…The Vipers were without F Trevor Fidler (concussion), while D Mitchell Oliver was a healthy scratch…Aldworth, on a solo rush and deke, and Meek, on a wrap-around, produced the nicest goals of the night…D-men Luke Shiplo and Johnny Coughlin each recorded two helpers…Jonah Imoo made 33 saves as the Cents (17-13-0-2) moved within three points of the third-place West Kelowna Warriors.