The Vernon Vipers are officially the hottest team in the B.C. Hockey League.
The Snakes pushed their win streak to five games with a 2-1 win over the league co-leading Powell River Kings Friday night at Hap Parker Arena.
Mason Blacklock, with his seventh goal in four games, scored the winner on a man advantage with five minutes left in regulation as the Vipers improved to 8-4-1-2.
Vernon held a share of second place in the Interior Division with the West Kelowna Warriors (9-4-0-1) heading into their Saturday-night tilt against the Nanaimo Clippers (6-7) at Frank Crane Arena.
The Snakes wrap up a three-game road swing with a matinee today against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (1-12-2-1) at Weyerhaeuser Arena.
Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson called Friday’s effort a greasy road win. He said the 10-2-0-1 Kings, renowned for their defence-first approach under head coach Kent Lewis, did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone, which limited the Vipers’ chances and forced them to wait for their opportunities.
“I don’t think we were at the top of our game, but the sign of a good team is one that guts it out,” he said. “We limited their opportunities and were very disciplined. Lots of good signs – blocking shots, good solid dee.”
Dexter Dancs opened the scoring with his seventh of the season midway through the second period. Michael McNicholas wheeled up the wing, fired on Johah Imoo, and Dancs was there to put home the rebound.
The 18-year-old North Vancouver product had a little extra edge to his game Friday after learning he didn’t merit an invite to the Canada West selection camp for the upcoming World Junior A Challenge.
He ended up scrapping the Kings’ Kurt Keats in the second period after Keats boarded Josh Betinol by the Vipers’ bench.
“I was pretty disappointed,” said Dancs. “It was one of my goals at the start of the season to make the team. I’m going to use it as motivation and step up my game.”
Added Williamson: “He probably had some fire after being snubbed for Canada West. He deserves to be there. He’s a kid who has taken his game to another level this year.”
Vipers earning an invite to the Canada West camp, which goes Oct. 26-30, at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, include defenceman Jared Wilson and forwards Blacklock and Demico Hannoun. The group features 66 players from the B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario (SIJHL) junior A leagues.
The six-team World Junior A Challenge, featuring Team East, Russia, U.S., Switzerland and the Czech Republic, goes Nov. 4-10, in Yarmouth, N.S.
Ryan Scarfo (first star), with his team-leading ninth goal, replied for Powell River five minutes into the third period, taking advantage as the puck took a strange bounce from the corner to fool second star netminder Danny Todosychuk.
Blacklock’s goal, his BCHL co-leading 15th, came on a slick passing play between Hannoun and Colton Sparrow, who fed Blacklock for a back-door tap-in.
The Kings poured on the pressure late, pulling Imoo (15 saves) for an extra attacker with two minutes remaining. Vernon got huge shot blocks from Sparrow, Josh Bryan and several other defenders to help Todosychuk (25 saves) keep the hard-pressing Kings at bay in a wild finish.
Todosychuk, a Vernon product, had just one win before backing the Vipers on their five-game run. With Austin Smith injured, the 18-year-old has made the most of the extra playing time.
“When you’re on the ice and playing a lot and get in a rhythm, it’s a good thing,” said Williamson. “He was seeing the puck well and swallowing rebounds.”
SNAKE BITES: Sparrow wore a face shield Friday night after he lost a couple of teeth taking a puck in the face Tuesday against the Trail Smoke Eaters…A pair of Vernon minor hockey products – Jordan Burns, a d-man with Powell River, and Alex Gillies, a forward with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks – were invited to the Canada West camp.