Last time the Prince George Spruce Kings were in town, they snapped a nine-game skid with an overtime win against the Vernon Vipers.
The Snakes returned the favour Saturday night at Wesbild Centre, stuffing the Sprucies 3-1 to halt their four-game win streak.
Rookie winger Aaron Hadley collected first star and a pair of goals, including the winner 1:13 into the third period, to lead the Vernon offence before 1,669 fans.
The Castlegar product nearly had his first B.C. Hockey League hat trick as he redirected John Knisley’s centring pass just wide on a late odd-man rush.
“One little stop in front of the net and it would have gone in. But it’s alright, we got the win,” smiled the 17-year-old, crediting linemates Knisley and Mike Zalewski for creating scoring chances.
“John sets me up all day and Mike’s a big guy that provides a lot of pressure and protects the puck well and gives me a lot of great passes too.”
The Vipers, second in the Interior at 12-5-1-5, host the fourth-place Salmon Arm SilverBacks (14-8) to start a home-and-home series Friday at Wesbild. Vernon has not played the Gorillas since they suffered a pair of 4-1 losses to open the season.
After a scoreless first period, the Spruce Kings (6-16-0-2) struck first in the second frame as Nic DeSousa, with Viper d-man Brett Corkey draped all over him in the corner, worked the puck out front to RJ Berra for his team-leading 18th goal.
Vernon replied with some solid pressure on the powerplay, with Stevie Weinstein setting up Malcolm Lyles for a barrage of point shots, but netminder Alex Wright (31 saves) stood tall.
Shortly after, Wright (third star) flashed his mitt to rob Zalewski on a hard snap shot from the hash marks.
Vernon got on the board when Knisley (second star) drew a defender out of position as he skated to the net, setting Hadley (4th) up for a point-blank strike on the powerplay at 12:28.
For his second goal, Hadley (5th) stuffed Connor Tiechko’s clearing attempt and batted the rolling puck five-hole on Wright early in the third period.
Marcus Basara (6th) completed the Viper attack off a quick transition, cutting in from the right wing and ringing a quick snapshot off the crossbar and in at 6:00.
Said Spruce Kings’ head coach Ed Dempsey: “A real bad turnover led to the second goal, and then just a bad decision, we got ourselves out of position and it ended up in our net (for the third).
“We played pretty well for the first two periods… but we just didn’t work as smart as we have to to beat a team like that.”
In light of the Vipers’ dismal performance Friday night – they squandered a three-goal lead in the final eight minutes to fall 4-3 in overtime to the Merritt Centennials – head coach Mark Ferner was happy with the rebound performance against a confident team.
“The effort was better from start to finish,” he said.
“The game was up for grabs. They came in here and played a good road game, but our guys just stuck to the game-plan. We knew if we worked hard we were going to get some opportunities.”
The Vipers’ Trevor Fitzgerald and Kings’ Trevor Esau provided some fireworks, trading punches in a third-period tilt. The two combatants had earned coincidental roughing minors a few minutes earlier.
Rookie tender Bryton Udy recorded 15 stops for his first BCHL win in four attempts. With Wright pulled for an extra attacker, the 17-year-old Calgary product made a flurry of saves in the dying seconds to preserve the two-goal cushion.
SNAKE BITES: Canada West rallied with four third-period goals, but fell 5-4 in overtime to Switzerland in their World Junior A Challenge opener Monday at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton. With overtime looming, Dylan Walchuk, of the Vipers, inadvertently cleared the puck over the glass, and Nicholas Steiner capitalized late in the 4-on-3 overtime powerplay, blasting a low shot past netminder Matthew Krahn. Canada West fell 5-3 to the U.S. in exhibition play Saturday night. They conclude preliminary play tonight (7:30) against Russia. Playoffs begin Thursday.