Michael Statchuk (facing) of the Vernon Vipers tries to squeeze past Braxton Bilous of the West Kelowna Warriors in B.C. Hockey League play Friday night at Kal Tire Place.

Michael Statchuk (facing) of the Vernon Vipers tries to squeeze past Braxton Bilous of the West Kelowna Warriors in B.C. Hockey League play Friday night at Kal Tire Place.

Vernon Vipers earn share Interior penthouse

Vernon Vipers brush back West Kelowna Warriors 5-3 to earn share of BCHL Interior Division penthouse.

Last time the Vernon Vipers were in first place in the B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Division 20 games into the season – 2010-11 – current captain Ryan Renz was a rookie.

Renz opened the scoring Friday night with a powerplay point shot past a screened Andy Desautels in the West Kelowna net as the Vipers rolled to a 5-3 victory over the Warriors in front of 1,961 fans at Kal Tire Place.

The win moved Vernon, 11-6-1-4, into a first-place tie on points with the Merritt Centennials (13-9-1-0), 2-1 winners at home Friday over the Langley Rivermen, and dropped West Kelowna into a tie for third with the Penticton Vees, 7-3 winners in Powell River.

Penticton and West Kelowna are one point behind Vernon and Merritt.

“It’s been a process this season working towards where we are right now,” said Renz after the game. “The way we played tonight, I hope guys bring that effort night in and night out and I think we’ll be able to stay on top.”

The Vipers hosted the Prince George Spruce Kings Saturday. Prince George beat the hometown Trail Smoke Eaters 5-2 Friday.

Renz’s point shot came on a powerplay at 17:40 of the opening frame with Dexter Dancs and Liam Coughlin screening Desautels, who had no chance on the goal.

Coughlin (1+3) and first star Michael McNicholas (2+2) drew assists on the goal and their line, along with Dancs (2A), combined for 10 points on the night.

West Kelowna evened the game near the midway mark of the middle period following a scramble in front of Vernon goalie Danny Todosychuk. Jordan Masters, after three previous Warriors shots were blocked, picked up a loose puck and roofed it over a sprawling Todosychuk.

The Vipers regained the lead just over a minute later, at 8:44, when McNicholas – the Vipers’ Player of the Month in October – won a faceoff to the right of Desautels. Coughlin got the puck to defenceman Josh Bryan at the left point who let go a shot that beat Desautels five-hole.

After the West Kelowna goalie stopped Brendan Persley and TJ Dumonceaux on breakaways, the Vipers extended their lead to 3-1 at 15:50 when McNicholas cut into the middle of the slot and fired a wrist shot that beat Desautels, glove side.

Less than a minute later, Seb Lloyd deflected a point shot past Todosychuk to pull West Kelowna to within one after 40 minutes.

Coughlin got the winner on a powerplay 44 seconds into the third, roofing a shot from the slot past Desautels.

After West Kelowna’s Carl Hesler again cut the lead to one 39 seconds later, McNicholas would seal the win with the prettiest goal of the night on a powerplay at 11:57. McNicholas snuck in from the left boards and tapped in a beautiful pass from Dancs.

“I like playing with these guys,” said McNicholas of linemates Coughlin and Dancs. “We’ve had good chemistry the last three or four games so hopefully we can keep that going. We knew it was a big game going in. We were well prepared mentally and went into the game knowing what we had to do. It came out good for us.”

The Warriors didn’t help themselves down the stretch taking several minors in the final six minutes.

Todosychuk picked up his eighth win by making 27 saves while Desautels made 37 stops.

“Andy was our best player by far,” said Warriors’ associate head coach Brent Gough, who managed the bench with head coach and general manager Rylan Ferster off in Calgary on a scouting trip. “If he wasn’t in the net it would have been an ugly game for sure. He kept us in there and gave us a chance. But we took too many penalties in the last six minutes and it killed us.”

Vernon went 3-7 with the man advantage, West Kelowna was 0-2.

SNAKE BITES: Vipers’ owner Duncan Wray, filling in for Lennie Rampone, presented McNicholas with his monthly award prior to the game…It’s Parents Weekend, meaning the parents of the Vipers are in town for the weekend games, and Vernon defenceman Jason Bird’s mom, Theresa, from Toronto, won more than $1,200 in the 50/50 draw…A T-shirt delayed the start of the second period Friday by 15 minutes. Vipers’ mascot Sniper tried to shoot a T-shirt into the crowd, it hit the top of the glass and fell to the ice. The Zamboni ran over the shirt, causing a problem with the ice cleaning machine…The Warriors were missing six regulars, five to injury and defenceman Adam Plante is with Vipers’ forward Demico Hannoun playing for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia. Russia scored five unanswered goals to beat Canada West 5-2 in a Friday semifinal and will play the U.S. for gold.