The Powell River Kings are a lot like the Vernon Vipers were two years ago – iron-clad defence with plenty of veteran leadership.
The host Kings used that senior savvy to brush back the youthful Snakes 5-2 in B.C. Hockey League play Wednesday night at Hap Parker Arena.
The first-place Kings (19-4-1-2), who have just two home regulation losses and the boast league’s best goals against average (1.90), were led by a goal and two helpers from 20-year-old blueliner Justin DaSilva.
“They’re probably the oldest team in the league – two 20s and four 19-year-olds on the back end,” said Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner. “Our guys did a lot of really good things, but our age showed at times.”
In particular, Ferner was referring to a stint midway through the third period where the Vipers gave up two goals in less than a minute.
The game was tied 2-2 and Vernon appeared to be gaining momentum, but they lost a defensive faceoff and the Kings got the puck back to second star DaSilva, who fired the winner through traffic, post and in, for his fifth goal at 9:51.
On the very next shift, Powell River had Vernon scrambling in their own end and Matt Garbowsky (first star) capitalized with his 16th goal before 670 fans.
“We were right there and then the wheels fell off,” said the Viper bench boss.
Ferner made a commitment to take on a younger team at the start of the season, and he has been patient in allowing his talented squad develop. His willingness to wait is likely aided by the fact that Vernon is treading water in the top half of the Interior pool at 12-8-1-5. However, he hinted that if his team’s progress doesn’t match expectations, changes may become necessary.
“It was important to (give it time) and see where we were at after 25 games,” he said. “We’ve seen some kids getting better and some who are staying the same.”
After back-and-forth play throughout the first period, the Kings opened the scoring with three minutes to play when Carter Shinkaruk (4th goal) converted a play with Cohen Adair and Andrew Pettitt.
Third star Daniel Schuler (6th) made it 2-0 on a powerplay, getting the puck by netminder Blake Voth (27 saves) on a goal-mouth scramble with 10 seconds to go in the period.
Viper defenceman Stevie Weinstein had a good chance to cut the lead in half, but netminder Michael Garteig (25 saves) denied the Los Angeles native on his breakaway attempt.
After some good movement on a Vernon powerplay, defenceman Adam Thompson (4th) pounced on a loose puck in the high slot, ripping a shot past Garteig at 15:56 of the second period.
Vernon’s Mike Zalewski (7th) made it 2-2 just over a minute into the third period, hustling down the wing and firing a bullet to the top shelf.
Powell River’s Mike Sones (4th) completed the scoring with an empty-netter in the final minute.
The Vipers will look to snap a three-game skid as they visit the Coquitlam Express (10-10-1-4) tonight at the Sports Centre. They will conclude the four-game coastal swing against the Langley Chiefs (16-8-0-4) and Surrey Eagles (15-9-0-1) Saturday and Sunday respectively.