CAMROSE – While the Tories were busy rolling towards a majority government, the Vernon Vipers were also on the rise at the Royal Bank Cup national junior A hockey championships Monday.
The Vipers cashed in on back-to-back slashing penalties to the Portage Terriers on the way to a 5-2 win in preliminary play Monday afternoon before 1,500 fans at the lavishly appointed Edgeworth Centre.
Combined with Saturday’s 4-2 win over the host Kodiaks in the the tournament opener, the Snakes were in sole possession of first place at 2-0 heading into their off-day Tuesday. They go up against the Central champion Wellington Dukes of Ontario today at 2:30 p.m. (PDT). They end the round-robin Thursday (6:30 p.m.) against the Eastern champion Pembroke Lumber Kings, also of Ontario. Semifinals go Saturday and the championship-game is Sunday on TSN.
The Vipers delivered an early one-two punch to the Terriers, capitalizing on a 5-on-3, and again on the subsequent 5-on-4 to send the Manitoba champions reeling.
Captain Dave Robinson pocketed the first goal at the side of the net, tapping home a nicely threaded pass from point man Adam Thompson at 11:52. Defenceman Ryan Renz earned the other goal late on the 5-on-4 when his slap pass from the point fooled everyone, including netminder Kirk Crosswell.
Game MVP Dylan Walchuk made it 3-0 before the first intermission as he wheeled out from the corner and lifted a wrister over a screened Crosswell (20 saves).
The two-time defending national junior A champion Vipers swarmed the Terriers (1-1) in the first period, outshooting Portage 12-1 in the opening frame, and 25-17 overall.
Walchuk, who now has 24 points in 25 postseason games, said the quick start seemed to suck the life out of Portage.
“It was huge. We got those three quick goals and for the most part played solid all game. We kind of let up in the end there and got away from our game a little bit, but we took a time-out and after that we were good,” said the McBride product.
Added Terriers’ head coach Blake Spiller: “I thought we matched them pretty well early, but we just didn’t get pucks to the net. They got the one late on the 5-on-4 and it seemed to take the wind out of our sails, and they took it to us for the balance of that period.”
The Terriers picked up their game in the second period, but it was the Vipers that found the net. Forward Marcus Basara, intercepting a clearance at the Portage blueline, caught the Terrier defence napping as he fired a hard pass down low to Walchuk at the side of the net where he quickly buried a shot before Crosswell, a Nanaimo product, could get set.
Portage, who grounded the SJHL La Ronge Ice Wolves in the Anavet Cup to advance to nationals, continued pressing in the third period, and were rewarded with goals from Tanner Waldvogel and captain Stephane Pattyn to cut the lead in half.
Waldvogel, one of three Portage la Prairie skaters on the roster, netted a rebound in a goalmouth scramble after Kirby Halcrow had made a stop at the side of the net.
“In the first period, we came out and we started running around. They’re a quick team and we knew they’d be good and we just had a few mental lapses that cost us. It’s pretty hard to come back from three goals. Getting off to a slow start against those guys is never going to be a good thing,” said Waldvogel.
“We outplayed them for quite a while in the last two periods and we won the third so we can’t really complain about that. It’s a long week so we’ll get them in the end hopefully.”
Spiller liked the way the Terriers finished and feels it will fuel their confidence moving forward.
“We got ourselves within two, and then one good bounce one way or the other and you never know what can happen. I was pretty proud of our guys and the way they stuck with the game,” he said.
“We did get some confidence… but tomorrow is going to be another tough day, just like yesterday was and just like Thursday will be. There are no easy clubs.”
After watching complacency creep into his team’s game in the third period, head coach Mark Ferner couldn’t give the Vipers full marks despite controlling the majority of play.
“Happy to win two games, but I think we’ve got a long way to go. The result was positive, the process is still not there,” he said.
“You can look at the score, you can look at the shots but it was closer than that. Portage came hard, they had us on our heels and we just scored on some opportunities. We got it to (4-0) and we let our foot off the gas and that’s what happens.”
The Vipers buckled down defensively after the second Portage goal and added one of their own to complete the scoring. John Knisley was left with a gimme in the crease after linemate Mike Zalewski stripped a Portage d-man at the blueline and came up just short with his wraparound attempt on a partial breakaway.
Halcrow recorded 15 stops for the win.
Darren Nowick scored the winner five minutes into the third period as the Vipers opened by stopping Camrose.
The two-time defending RBC champion Vipers got off to a solid start, recording goals two minutes apart by defenceman Brett Corkey and Zalewski, on the powerplay, early in the first.
Robinson and Bryce Kakoske drew assists on the first goal at 4:12, and Nowick (1+2, game MVP) and Adam Thompson set up the second strike.
Mario Boilard responded for the Kodiaks with a powerplay goal at 16:30, assisted by Ben Gallacher and Rylan Wiest.
The Snakes took three straight minors in the second period, but worked their penalty kill to keep the same scoreline heading into the second intermission.
In the Monday-night game, Jonathan Milley netted two goals just 73 seconds apart early in the second period as the Lumber Kings stuffed the Dukes 5-2 before 1,300 fans.
Matthew Peca and Matthew Zay each pocketed a goal and an assist for Pembroke (1-1). Lumber King captain Ben Reinhardt added two helpers in support of netminder Francis Dupuis (20 saves).
Cam Yuill, the lone Wellington product on the Dukes (0-2), had both his team’s goals.
SNAKE BITES: The Vipers have nine round-robin wins in their last 10 RBC preliminary games, dating back to the 2009 RBC Cup in Victoria…Rookie D Max Mowat and rookie F Zach McPhee sat out both Viper wins. Veteran F Pat McGillis is injured but listed as probable for tonight’s game…All but five Portage players hail from Manitoba.