Vipers’ netminder Kirby Halcrow hunkers down to block a shot from the Vees' Nick Buchanan (#4) in B.C. Hockey League play Saturday night at South Okanagan Events Centre. Vernon defenceman Ryan Renz tries to clear the crease.

Vees seize first place

Vees outgun Vipers 6-2 to take over top spot in the B.C. Hockey League's Interior Conference.

The Vernon Vipers never dreamed of running the table, but after a 7-0 start they may have been guilty of daydreaming a little.

Back-to-back B.C. Hockey League road losses, including Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to the red-hot Penticton Vees at the South Okanagan Events Centre, provided a reality check.

“It was a little bit of a wakeup call. Any time you go 7-0 it’s a good thing, but I think you get a little complacent,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Chris Shaw.

The 7-2 Vipers, who trail the 7-1-0-1 Vees for the Interior Conference lead, won’t have to wait long for a chance at payback. The two powerhouses tangle Friday night at Wesbild Centre.

“All the games against Penticton are the ones you circle on the calendar. It’s a chance to redeem ourselves and a chance to show we can beat the top teams in the league,” said Shaw.

Vernon visits the last-place Trail Smoke Eaters (1-7-1) Saturday night at Cominco Arena, and ends the weekend with a 4 p.m. matinee against the resurgent Prince George Spruce Kings Sunday at Wesbild.

Shaw said the Vipers are already ramping up for the weekend.

“We saw it (Monday) in practice. We had one of our most intense practices of the year so far and the boys came into practice with a real workman’s mentality.”

First star Curtis Loik, cashing in his own rebound, gave the Vees the early lead Saturday night, with Grant Nicholson making it 2-0 after 20 minutes.

Vernon responded two minutes into the second frame when rookie forward Adam Tambellini attacked the Penticton zone at speed and dangled through the middle before unleashing a sweet wrister to beat netminder Michael Garteig (23 saves) top shelf, glove side.

Defenceman Geoff Crisfield started the play with a heads-up outlet pass.

The line of Tambellini, his cousin Aaron Hadley, and Marcus Basara was Vernon’s best unit on the night.

After Steven Fogarty made it 3-1 Penticton with a powerplay goal later in the second period, Hadley pulled the Vipers within a goal after the puck took a lucky bounce to him alone in the slot at 5:14 of the third period.

“It was his best game of the year. He finished all his checks, scored a goal and his line was plus-2,” said Shaw of Hadley.

Shaw is starting to see some of the family traits show through in Tambellini’s game.

“He’s hard to push off the puck and he’s got that Tambellini shot. Jeff (older brother and former Vancouver Canuck) has the same shot.”

Added Hadley: “Friday night (4-1 loss to Chilliwack Chiefs) we didn’t compete as hard as we wanted to. Against Penticton we battled a lot harder, but a couple bounces didn’t go our way. We can take some positives from the weekend and we’re going to keep building on it.”

With Vernon pressing for the equalizer, Penticton scored the first of three unanswered goals when Zach Urban banged a puck past a sprawled Kirby Halcrow (24 saves) after some great end-to-end action.

Singles by Mario Lucia, on the powerplay, and Loik, with an empty-netter, completed the offence in front of nearly 2,000 fans.

“I know they are like that cross-town rival and for most of the guys it’s their first time beating them in their Penticton career. It was good for us to get that win and earn first place as well,” Lucia told Black Press.

Lucia, a Chanhassen, Minn. product who is riding a six-game scoring streak, is tied with linemate Travis St. Denis with a team-high 19 points.

“It’s my role on the team to put up points every night and I’m trying to be consistent,” he added.

SNAKE BITES: Ex-Viper Jarryd Ten Vaanholt, now with the Victoria Grizzlies, was named the BCHL Player of the Week. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound West Vancouver native led the Grizzlies in a 5-4 come-from-behind win over the Nanaimo Clippers with two goals and two assists in the third period to begin the week. He netted 2+1 in a win over Langley, and supplied another 1+2 in another win over Nanaimo…Penticton’s weekend wins over Vernon and the Westside Warriors (8-3 result Friday night) have vaulted them up the weekly CJHL rankings to seventh place. The Vipers dipped seven places to No. 11. The Surrey Eagles, previously outside the top 20, are 19th.

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