It’s been about as reliable as snow in July so far this season, but the powerplay came through big time for the Vernon Vipers Friday night at Kal Tire Place.
Michael McNicholas scored on the man advantage with just over six minutes left in regulation to give the Vipers a 2-1 win over their main B.C. Hockey League rival, the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
Liam Coughlin relayed Dexter Dancs’ cross-ice feed to McNicholas, who buried the winner before netminder Adam Clark could get across.
Vernon’s powerplay is clicking at a league-worst 11.76 per cent.
Coughlin (first star) stuffed home the rebound off of fellow Bostonian Mark Hamilton’s point shot for the opening goal early in the second period.
The SilverBacks, fifth in the Interior Division at 10-7-1-1, equalized on a scramble in front of Danny Todosychuk, converted by third star Max Becker.
Vernon (10-6-1-3) is tied for second in the Interior with the Penticton Vees (11-4-1-1), who have three games in hand. Just four points separate first from fifth place.
Friday’s tilt, before 1,800 fans was a chippy affair, featuring a pair of scraps. The Snakes’ Brendan Persley and SilverBacks’ Brendan Kennedy battled in a quick, spirited bout in the second period on a Salmon Arm powerplay. Kennedy’s brother, Jeff, tussled with Kenny Citron during a melee caused by Alex Jewell’s hit from behind on Hamilton in the third.
Todosychuk made 30 saves for his seventh win. Clark was steady in recording 31 stops for the Gorillas.
Vernon meets the Victoria Grizzlies (9-6-2-1) for the first time this season in a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday at Kal Tire Place.
Bill Bestwick’s Grizz tied the Trail Smoke Eaters 4-4 Friday night at Cominco Arena. They visited the SilverBacks Saturday at the Shaw Centre.
Salmon Arm’s penalty kill is tops in the BCHL, denying opposition 88.24 per cent of the time.
“There was a lot of special teams tonight,” said SilverBacks’ head coach Troy Mick. “There wasn’t a lot of flow in the game, but they got one chance in the end and they capitalized on it.
“When you look at our penalty kill, we’re at the top of the league and tonight I don’t think we kind of sat back.”
On the intensity shown Friday, Mick said: “It’s heated rivalry and we hope that it can keep growing. It’s healthy, not only for our two teams and our attendance, but it’s healthy for the league too.”
Added Jewell, a Vernon product: “We don’t think we played our best game, but you’ve got to give them credit – they played a hard 60 (minutes) and we didn’t.We always get up when we play Vernon; they’re our main rival. Playing in my hometown adds spark and gives me a little extra jump.”
Coughlin and d-man Jason Bird, who rang iron of a slick pass from Coughlin, had great chances for Vernon in an exciting second period after a rather listless opening 20.
Said Coughlin, who has four goals: “I’m getting a lot more comfortable, a lot more chances, and a I’m starting to bury them, which is good. It’s great to get the win on them. You know it’s going to be a good game coming in and we came out hard. It was good for us to get this W.
“We just wanted it more tonight, right from the puck drop to the end. We were very physical tonight and we were able to just go around them. Our breakout was pretty good tonight, getting out of the zone and transitioning into the offensive zone.”
Viper captain Ryan Renz returned after missing six weeks with an ankle injury.
“It feels great,” said Renz. “Practice isn’t like a game in any way, so it was great getting back in my first game, and the guys came together for a hard-fought win. It’s a great feeling in the dressing room right now. It was a big confidence thing. They’d be going into games unsure of themselves, but later went in thinking they could dominate, or find a way to win if we didn’t dominate. It comes down to confidence.”
Added Viper head coach Jason Williamson: “The powerplay was dangerous at times, but at the same time, they were blocking a lot of shots. We threw lots at net, but we were just a little off. We made one adjustment and sure enough it works.”
SNAKE BITES: Mitch Ferguson swiped the puck from the crease with Clark out of position to prevent McNicholas from converting into an open net early in the second period…New Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame inductees Sonja Gaudet, Ian Gibson, Russ Elsom (Enderby Legionnaires) and Ross MacDonald (representing his late father, Don) handled the ceremonial opening face-off.