Count the Vernon Vipers among those hoping the Penticton Vees keep winning and breaking records in the B.C. Hockey League.
You see, the more the Vees beat teams like the Chilliwack Chiefs and Prince George Spruce Kings, the better the Vipers’ playoff picture looks.
The Vipers entertained the Interior Conference last-place Trail Smoke Eaters Tuesday night, fully expecting the Vees to defeat host Chilliwack and set a record with their 30th straight victory on the same night. The Smokies upset Chilliwack 5-3 Saturday night.
If the Vipers and Vees both won, Vernon would have woke up this morning tied with Chilliwack in the fourth and final playoff spot, three points back of Prince George.
The Chiefs play the 41-3-0-2 Vees once more in Penticton, while Prince George has the Vees three times, including a season-ending twinbill up north on the final weekend. Vernon gets Penticton once, a road date Friday, Feb. 17.
The Vipers (23-20-1-2) face a tough two-game road swing to Powell River and Cowichan Valley at the end of February, but end March with a home-and-home series with the free-falling Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
Mike Zalewski has pretty much ignited the Vipers’ three-game win streak, scoring gigantic goals 10 days ago in Prince George to jumpstart the injury-riddled team’s fragile mind-set.
The 19-year-old power winger out of New York was in prime-time mode again Saturday night, scoring goals 1:50 apart in the third period as the Vipers held off the stubborn and shortstaffed Alberni Valley Bulldogs 5-2.
“I think last weekend’s win in Prince George really turned things around for us,” said Zalewski, who hasn’t lost a step without clutch linemate Darren Nowick on injured reserve. “We only got one point over them in that game, but for the team morale, it was huge.”
Zalewski, who hit the 30-goal mark with a pair of beauties, earned first star ahead of linemate Adam Tambellini (1+2) and Alberni Valley defenceman Walker Hyland, who put the Dawgs up 1-0 after one period on a powerplay point shot. Alberni captain Trent Dorais, a Vernon product, and ex-Viper, drew the secondary assist.
“I think we kind of underestimated them and we came out with a pretty sloppy effort in the first,” said Zalewski, who went roof daddy from in tight for the winner, on a great feed by Johnny Knisley, and showed cool patience on his insurance tally.
“We didn’t really expect them to come out that hard which is bad on our part, but we battled back really hard and got some good bounces.”
The Dawgs, last in the Coastal Conference, showed plenty of grit and hustle despite dressing just eight forwards due to injuries and suspensions. They had 10 rookies in their lineup before 1,600 fans at the Wesbild Centre.
Ben Gamache banked a shot from the sidewall off Alberni winger Tryg Strand to even the score 95 seconds into the second period. Tambellini fooled goalie Max Fenkell from the high slot five seconds into a high sticking penalty to Hyland.
Hunter Stewart tipped a shot by Marlon Sabo past Kirby Halcrow during a powerplay late in the second.
“We had something to prove tonight and we came out with a mind-set of outworking them, being physical and keeping it simple,” said Dorais, the Dawgs’ 20-year-old captain in his final BCHL game in his home rink before playing at SAIT next year. “It worked for the most part, but fatigue kicked in, in the end there.”
Tambellini fed Aaron Hadley for an empty-netter with 14 seconds remaining.