Morning Star Staff
Last year, the Vernon Vipers couldn’t score any goals. This year, they can’t seem to stop them.
The Snakes are right up with the B.C. Hockey League’s best in offensive output, but in their own zone, life is an adventure. Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Merritt Centennials at Kal Tire Place is evidence of that.
Capping a two-goal, first-star performance, Merritt’s Gavin Gould got inside position on Viper defenders Jason Bird and Kenny Citron in the first OT and converted his second attempt from Austin Smith’s doorstep on a feed from Scott Patterson.
It came after Vernon had built up a 2-0 lead on the strength of a solid first period before fizzling in the second.
“We got two on them early and thought maybe it was going to be easy after that,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Dave Robinson.
“They think they’re working hard, but they’re not working hard enough. You’ve got to work smart too because that limits those breakdowns.
“Merritt’s the same way every year. They come in and outwork you and get those greasy goals that some teams aren’t willing to pay the price for. You have to give them a lot of credit.”
Vernon, now 1-2-1-2, turned in a solid first period, opening the scoring on the powerplay as Mason Blacklock went roof daddy on netminder Connor LaCouvee after taking a slick back pass from Dallas Calvin at the side of the net.
Craig Martin gave the Vipers a two-goal cushion when he cruised through the slot and got wood on Liam Coughlin’s centering feed from the corner.
“Liam was trying to hit TJ (Dumonceaux) in the slot and I was just following up and found it loose in there,” said Martin, a second-year forward.
Martin said the Vipers will definitely need to be more consistent when they host the high-flying Penticton Vees (4-1) tonight, 7 p.m., at Kal Tire Place.
“We know they’re a skilled team so we’ve got to outwork them and mentally prepare for that game,” said Martin, a Trail product.
“We definitely let off the gas in the second period (against Merritt) and that can’t happen. We’ve got to be putting together 60-minute games, especially against a hard-working team like Merritt. If we out-compete them, we win that game easily.”
Luke Pierce’s Centennials (3-4) began clawing their way back in the second period when a few Vipers missed a defensive assignment, allowing Gould to cruise unchecked to the top of the circle and beat Smith, top shelf.
“They had unbelievable scoring chances from the breakdowns that we have,” said Robinson. “When we make mistakes, they’re glaring ones. You stray away for five minutes and that can be the game.
“It’s happening every way right now. Whether it’s our centremen not supporting our dee in the corner, or our d-man blowing a tire, like the last goal. And there’s not a lot of communication. That’ll solve a lot of problems.”
Pierce was thrilled with the Cents’ ability to rebound after what he called a sluggish first period.
“It was a resilient effort. We improved tremendously from the intermission and throughout the game. We’re battling a lot of stuff right now and just trying to find ways to win games.
“Our skill set is there, we still have a lot of work to do on our consistency. They have to learn the everyday junior lifestyle and what it takes to compete like that.”
Payton Schaefer collected the equalizer on a goal-mouth scramble at 14:02 of the middle period.
Lumby’s Dylan Bowen, a Cents’ d-man who split last season between the Salmon Arm SilverBacks and KIJHL North Okanagan Knights, said Pierce had some “thoughts” on Merritt’s first-period play during the intermission. He said they got the message and responded with a better effort.
“We’ve had some ups and downs. We won against Trail and lost against Trail and we’re trying to get the team in the rhythm and find out who we are as a team. Coming out with a win was big for us.”
LaCouvee, making his Centennials’ debut after being picked up from the AJHL Grande Prairie Storm last week, finished with 32 saves. He started the season with Mike Vandekamp’s Nanaimo Clippers.
Smith was steady in making 36 stops for the Vipers.
Vernon heads to Surrey Friday for the first leg of a weekend home-and-home with the Eagles.
The Vees enter tonight’s contest after suffering their first loss of the season, a 4-3 decision to the Prince George Spruce Kings Friday night at the Coliseum.