Morning Star Staff
They got just 14 goals from their entire defensive core last B.C. Hockey League season.
The Vernon Vipers already have 17 from their back end this year, the biggest coming Friday night when former Prince Albert Raider Riley Guenther scored in overtime as the Vipers clipped the Merritt Centennials 4-3.
“We need those guys to chip in back there,” said Vernon head coach Jason Williamson. “It was a nice wrister, low, blocker side.”
Dexter Dancs, who won a puck battle in the Cents’ zone, fed Michael McNicholas, who in turn found Guenther in the slot for his second snipe of the season, 88 seconds into four-on-four overtime. D-man Josh Bryan was also on the ice.
“It was a very even game,” added Williamson. “We were the better team in the first period, they were better in the second and we gritted it out in the third. It was the first time playing in Merritt for a lot of guys. Things happen in a hurry there and you have to be on your toes and we were for the most part.”
The Vipers, who entertain the Cowichan Valley Capitals (11-13-0-1) today at 2 p.m., went up 2-1 after 20 minutes before 800 fans at Nicola Valley Arena. Liam Coughlin registered his ninth of the season seven minutes in after d-man Ryan Renz chipped the puck deep. Renz fired a shot off the side of the net and Couglin buried the rebound.
D-man ilea Scott Patterson pulled the Cents (14-9-1-1) even just 54 seconds later on a high tip in the mid slot. It was Patterson’s team-high 15th. Sebastien Pare and Shane Poulsen drew assists.
Matty Saharchuk put the Vipers in front under four minutes later with his second of the season. Dancs and d-man Michael Statchuk had helpers.
The Cents dialed up powerplay goals by Jeff Wight nine minutes apart to go ahead 3-2 in the second period. Wight, who has eight goals, went back door for one and used a high wrister past Austin Smith, glove side, for the other.
Brendan Persley levelled the score midway through the third after taking a breakaway pass from McNicholas. Persley went forehand, backhand, five-hole to beat Devon Kero. Bryan started the play with a sweet breakout pass on a powerplay.
Merritt outshot Vernon 32-29 and went 2-for-3 on the powerplay. The Vipers were 1-for-6 with the man advantage.
Vernon moved to 12-6-2-4, good for a share of second place with the Cents in the highly competitive Interior Division.
The Penticton Vees got 34 saves from NHL_rated Hunter Miska of Minnesota as they brushed back the West Kelowna Warriors 6-3 before 1,220 fans at Royal LePage Place. Anthony Conti bagged a deuce for the Vees, who at 14-4-1-2, are one point ahead of Vernon and Merritt.
The Salmon Arm SilverBacks iced Cowichan Valley 5-3 at the Shaw Centre to stay a single point behind the Vipers and Cents. Vernon product Alex Jewell netted his fifth of the year for the SilverBacks (13-8-1-2) in front of 950 fans.
The last-place Trail Smoke Eaters surprised the Nanaimo Clippers 3-2 in front of 850 fans at Cominco Arena.
The Smokies made three trades earlier in the week, grabbing Vernon products Dylan Bowen and Michael Roberts.
Bowen, who played Friday night on the back end, went to Trail from Merritt in exchange for D Curtis Toneff. Roberts, who didn’t play against the Clippers, landed in Trail from the Surrey Eagles for F Luke Sandler.
The Smokies also sent F Brandon Lamont to Penticton for future considerations.