Pick a zone, and the Vernon Vipers controlled it. Choose any line, and the Snakes outworked their Chilliwack Chiefs counterparts.
The result was a convincing 4-1 B.C. Hockey League win in front of 1,700 fans Friday night at Kal Tire Place, highlighted by a two-goal, one-assist, first-star performance by Mason Blacklock.
With Vernon leading 2-1 after one period, Blacklock put the game away with singles in periods two and three. The first came on a powerplay drawn by the non-stop hustle of Viper forward Josh Betinol, who was hauled down by Eric Roberts in front of the Chiefs’ net.
On the man advantage, second star Riley Guenther sent a wall-to-wall pass to Blacklock, who ripped one post-and-in for his ninth goal. The White Rock native pounced on the rebound from a Colton Sparrow one-timer 8:02 into the third period for his 10th, which is second in the BCHL behind Alex Gillies, a Vernon product with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks, who has 14.
Chilliwack head coach Harvey Smyl couldn’t help but admire Blacklock’s work ethic.
“He was everything I thought he’d be when I saw him play as a 16-year-old,” said Smyl, the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks’ legend Stan Smyl. “He plays both ends of the rink and is very intelligent and patient. He made a huge difference in that game tonight.”
Friday’s loss pushed the last-place Chiefs’ (1-7-1) losing streak to five games, while it was the 5-4-1-2 Vipers’ second straight win, which leaves them fifth in the Interior. The teams completed their home-and-home set Saturday at Prospera Centre.
Vernon hosts the fourth-place Merritt Centennials (7-6) Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Kal Tire Place.
Friday night was a homecoming of sorts for Vernon’s Colton Sparrow, who, due to injury, hadn’t played at Kal Tire Place since last season. He was buzzing on a line with Blacklock and Demico Hannoun, and it took him just 2:45 to feed Hannoun (4th goal) from behind the net for Vernon’s first goal.
“It had been a while,” said Sparrow, 20. “I was itching to get back in front of the home fans and show them this team is the real deal.
“I don’t see myself as the most gifted goal scorer, but when I play with two guys that know how to score goals, I look pretty good.”
Jake Hand (1st goal), who played prep school hockey with suspended Viper d-man Mark Hamilton (he returned to action Saturday) for the past two years in Massachusetts, replied for Chilliwack midway through the first period.
Showing great hand-eye coordination, the Oakville, Ont. product batted home a rebound off of Danny Todosychuk’s blocker out of midair on an odd-man rush with Ben Butcher.
“I saw it go up in the air and focus kicked in,” said Hand. “I work on it at the end of practices, just fooling around, so I guess it paid off.”
While the Chiefs have registered a league-low 15 goals, Hand said it is in the defensive zone where his team needs to improve most.
“There’s two goals they had where our defensive zone coverage was not the best. We just lost our man and the puck ended up in the back of the net.”
That comment could just have easily applied to the Vipers not that long ago, but the Snakes appear to have found some composure in their own end.
“Throughout our lineup, all our guys committed to it,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “When we got running around in our dee zone, we didn’t panic. We just settled down.”
Williamson was also pleased with the Vipers’ work in the neutral zone.
“We changed our forecheck in the neutral zone just to be a little more aggressive,” he said. “Rather than sit back, we were trying to force turnovers and getting in and hounding pucks. Our guys seem to like it so we’re going to let them get after it.”
And whether it was Betinol’s line of Matty Saharchuk and Liam Coughlin crashing the boards (Saharchuk earned the takedown in a quick first-period scrap with Carter Cochrane), or call-up Branden Wagner, Mike Iovanna and Tyler Povelofskie pestering the Chiefs’ defence, each of Vernon’s lines had something to contribute.
“When one line goes out and has a good shift, it’s up the line after to match that or be better,” said Williamson. “That’s how you create momentum.”
Dexter Dancs (6th) pocketed the winner with 43 seconds left in the first period, capping a gorgeous three-touch passing play with Guenther and Mike McNicholas.
“We never rebounded from that, and they played well defensively,” said Smyl, of Dancs’ goal. “They were really good in the neutral zone; probably the best I’ve seen them in a year or two now.”
Todosychuk had a relatively quiet night in recording 22 stops for his third win. Lyndon Stanwood had 36 saves for Chilliwack.