Their B.C. Hockey League season will be cut painfully short this weekend, but the Vernon Vipers still plan to go out in style.
It has been a dismal year for the Snakes, who will miss the post-season for the second straight season. They can salvage a bit of pride by going out on a four-game win streak. They are half way there thanks to a 2-1 win over the Merritt Centennials Wednesday night at Nicola Valley Arena.
They finish their schedule with a pair of games at Wesbild Centre – tonight against the Penticton Vees, followed by a Saturday rematch with the Cents.
For added incentive, Vernon, last in the Interior Division at 19-25-1-9, can help derail Merritt’s hopes of home-ice advantage in the first round of the Fred Page Cup playoffs. The second-place Cents (31-17-3-3) are just one point ahead of the West Kelowna Warriors (27-13-4-9) in the Interior race and have played one more game.
“Merritt’s going for home-ice advantage and we can be a spoiler,” said Viper rookie forward Mitch McAllister, who collected a goal and an assist against the Centennials Wednesday.
“We’ve already beat them once this week.”
After getting outshot 14-7 in a scoreless first period (and 38-22 overall), the Vipers opened the scoring on a three-way passing play, with McAllister and Craig Martin setting up Michael Roberts for a post-and-in blast, his fourth of the season.
McAllister was sprung by defenceman Marc Hetnik for a shorthanded breakaway for Vernon’s other goal. The Medicine Hat native finished with a slick backhander past netminder Tyler Steel for his fourth of the year and first star.
Kevin Lohan answered for Merritt later in the second period, assisted by Scott Patterson and Diego Cuglietta.
Austin Smith was huge for Vernon, recording 37 stops for his 12th win. He helped Vernon kill of a tripping penalty to Brendan Persley as the Cents desperately sought the equalizer in the final minute.
Steel, a Vernon product, made 20 saves.
“You can always count on Smitty to hold his own back there,” said McAllister. “He’s done that consistently all year.”
This weekend will mark the final games for graduating veterans Brett Corkey, Hetnik and Andrew Tegeler.
Corkey was recently named to the league’s second all-star team. The Viper captain is third in team scoring with 3-24-27 in 51 games.
“We’re playing for them and we’re playing for each other,” said McAllister.
“We have our pride to play for now. We’ve put two wins together and we’re going out with a statement. We want to set the tone for next year.”
Persley made a statement of his own by using his reach to earn a decision in a scrap with Sam Johnson. The fight started after Johnson boarded McAllister in the first period and Persley went to his defence.
SNAKE BITES: The Vees (35-14-0-5) are in a three-way tie for first overall with the Victoria Grizzlies (33-12-0-9) and Surrey Eagles (34-13-3-4).