Vernon Vipers ground Grizzlies in OT

Vernon Vipers brush back Victoria Grizzlies 4-3 in OT in BCHL play Friday night at Bear Mountain Arena.

The Vernon Vipers took a while to get going, even before they got to the rink Friday night in Victoria.

The team bus broke down at their hotel, delaying their arrival by an hour as they prepared to face the host Grizzlies in B.C. Hockey League play at Bear Mountain Arena.

Similar to their transportation woes, the Snakes were a little sluggish at the start, but rebounded to earn a 4-3 overtime win in front of 1,200 fans.

Dexter Dancs buried the OT winner after some good hustle up the wing by Liam Coughlin. Riley Guenther sparked the play with a solid breakout pass.

“Slow start, but we got our legs in the second and we started taking over the game,” said Vernon head coach Jason Williamson, who is without injured  forwards Brendan Persley and Mason Blacklock, and blueliners Ryan Renz and Mark Hamilton for the Vipers’ three-game coastal swing.

“We’ve got some pretty keys players out, but guys have been stepping up and filling key voids.”

Vernon, second in the Interior Division at 17-7-3-4, visited the Cowichan Valley Capitals (12-20-0-1) Saturday at the Island Savings Centre. The Snakes wrap up the trip with a 2 p.m. matinee today with the Coquitlam Express (15-14-0-2) at Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre.

The high-octane Express lead the lead in goals for (124), but are also tied for second in goals against (126).

“They either score six or seven, or they give up six or seven,” said Williamson. “They score in bunches so we’ll have to be on our toes.”

Bill Bestwick’s Grizzlies, second on the Island at 19-7-3-2, outshot Vernon 11-5 in the first period (and 27-23 overall) and jumped out to an early lead on a Jesse Schwartz powerplay goal, his 11th.

Vernon’s powerplay responded in the second period as Michael McNicholas (13th goal) pounced on the rebound from Jason Bird’s point shot at 3:54.

Logan Mick (2nd) then used his wheels to win a footrace for a puck, and beat first star Alec Dillon (20 saves), high blockerside, on a partial breakaway.

Victoria restored its lead midway through the third period on singles less than a minute apart by two of the Fitzgerald triplets, Gerry and Myles (Leo is injured).

“Both Fitzgeralds on one shift; give them time and space and they make you pay,” said Williamson.

With Vernon pressuring the Grizzlies late, Dancs worked the puck back to Jared Wilson, whose point shot was knocked down by Dillon, only to have McNicholas (14th) bury the rebound three minutes left.

Austin Smith recorded 26 stops for his eight win.

The Vipers have only just past the halfway mark, but their defence already has more goals (22) than it did all of last season (14). Williamson said the back end is playing a big part in team’s success.

“They’ve all been chipping in,” he said. “Even with the assists. It’s guys crashing the net and putting the pressure on their goalie.

“I’ve told them that when they see the play moving up the ice, I want them jumping in the play too, being that second option.”

Williamson called up forwards Blaine Caton (KIJHL North Okanagan Knights) and Linden Hora (Major Midget Okanagan Rockets) for weekend action.

Meanwhile, the Penticton Vees retained their grip on first in the Interior with a 5-4 win over the Merritt Centennials Friday at Nicola Valley Arena.

Fred Harbinson’s Vees (19-7-1-3) remain one point ahead of Vernon, with a game in hand.

The West Kelowna Warriors fell nine points back of Penticton after they bowed 4-3 to the visiting Surrey Eagles at Royal LePage Place.

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