The Prince George Spruce Kings guaranteed their first point in three weeks by forcing the Vernon Vipers to overtime Sunday afternoon at Wesbild Centre.
Zac Ashdown made it their first win in nine B.C. Hockey League games when he snuck behind the Viper defence off a faceoff and slid the puck under netminder Bryton Udy on the powerplay to earn a 3-2 decision.
“That’s what we do,” smiled the Spruce Kings’ Riley Spraggs, a Vernon product.
“We’ve been on a bit of a slide lately, so to come in here and work hard and have our team gel back together again was good to see. Hopefully this is the beginning of something good.
“Guys will rally around that, have a good week at practice and carry on next weekend.”
Despite earning five of a possible six points this weekend, the Vipers, who are 1-3-1 in overtime, can’t help but feel they let Sunday’s game slip away. That extra point would have tied them with the Penticton Vees (12-5-0-1) and Trail Smoke Eaters (12-6-0-1) for first in the Interior Conference. Instead, the Snakes (10-5-1-3) are a point back with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (12-6).
“Five out of six points on the weekend is pretty good, but we don’t want to cough points up to teams when we can get that extra point,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Jason Williamson. “It’s a tough one to swallow.
“We’ve got to bear down on our chances to put the game out of reach. If we let teams hang around that’s what’s going to happen.”
It was the third game in as many days for both teams – the Vipers thumped the Vees 5-0 Friday night and pummeled the Quesnel Millionaires 8-1 Saturday; the Spruce Kings dropped a pair of games to the host Smoke Eaters, 7-3 and 4-1, Friday and Saturday night respectively.
Prince George took the night bus from Trail Saturday, and it showed as they appeared lifeless in the first period. The Vipers peppered Kings’ netminder Kirk Thompson with 11 shots before the Sprucies’ offence landed any rubber on Udy.
If not for Thompson’s 39-save, second star showing, the game could have been over early.
Said Spruce Kings’ head coach Ed Dempsey: “We got some great goaltending, which maybe a little earlier on in the season was our Achilles heel.
“Since we got Alex (Wright, Kings’ veteran netminder) back… he’s really helped Kirk out and helped settle the situation down there and they’re both playing pretty well for us.”
The Kings finally applied some pressure to Udy late in the first period when Spraggs intercepted defenceman Max Mowat’s clearing attempt to earn a partial breakaway. Udy (third star) robbed Spraggs with his glove, and shortly after squeezed the pads on Stephen Ryan’s shot from the slot.
Viper rookie Gus Correale looked to have solved Thompson with a sharp-angle shot in the second period, but a Prince George defender cleared the loose puck from the goal line.
The Vipers, sporting their royal blue and pink trimmed limited edition jerseys for Paint the Rink Pink night, opened the scoring when John Knisley circled around the net before setting up Aaron Hadley (3rd goal) for a one-timer at 10:16.
Less than three minutes later, Dylan Walchuk (10th), taking a centring feed from Marcus Basara, danced through a handful of Kings’ defenders and pulled an NHL11-style deke to ignite the 1,600 fans.
The Spruce Kings replied later in the second frame when RJ Berra’s centring feed redirected off Viper d-man Stevie Weinstein’s foot, angling just inside the far post for his 13th goal.
Vernon d-man Malcolm Lyles earned a double-minor for spearing Trevor Esau as he lay on the puck. Referee Kris Hartley then handed captain Dave Robinson an unsportsmanlike when he came off the bench to dispute the call after the whistle.
On the ensuing 5-on-3, Prince George blueliner Trent Murdoch delivered a point-to-point feed to Justin Fillion (4th), who ripped a one-timer by Udy, blocker side, with a minute left in the frame.
Saturday night against the Millionaires, Robinson recorded his second hat trick as a Viper to pace Vernon’s offence.
Basara chipped in with a pair of goals, while Trevor Fitzgerald, Bryce Kakoske and Walchuk each added a goal and an assist.
Blake Voth made 24 saves for his 10th win of the season.