Asked if he was concerned about his team’s modest two-game losing streak heading into the B.C. Hockey League playoffs, Vernon Vipers head coach Mark Ferner offered a simple one-word answer.
“No,” said Ferner immediately following a 3-2 loss to the Penticton Vees Friday night in the team’s final regular season game, and before he knew his club would play the Merritt Centennials in the opening round of the playoffs starting Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 p.m. both nights, at Kal Tire Place.
The Vees pocketed the winning goal Friday at 13:23 of the third period, getting an accidental boost from a referee’s skate.
A Vipers’ clearing attempt in their own hit the skate of the referee, went directly to Penticton forward Steen Cooper who passed it to an open Lewis Zerter-Gossage in front of Vernon goalie Danny Todosychuk. Zerter-Gossage, named second star on the night, made a nice move and put the puck behind Todosychuk for the winning goal.
“I’m happy with the way we competed tonight,” said Ferner. “We worked hard to come back from a two-goal deficit and the winning goal was a rather unfortunate situation, and the coverage on that goal wasn’t great. But we competed hard against a good team.”
After falling behind 2-0, Thomas Aldworth, the game’s third star, cut the lead in half at 17:39 of the second period on a Vernon powerplay, firing a rocket from the left face-off circle past first star Hunter Miska in the Vees net for his 37th goal of the year.
Anthony Latina tied the game at 8:02 of the third, capitalizing on a Vees turnover and burying his 19th of the season.
Vernon dominated the final 20 minutes, outshooting the Vees 15-6 and 41-33 on the night.
“I thought we got the puck deep, worked pretty hard down low and we killed off a few penalties,” said Latina. “It could have been a lot worse.”
The Vipers were 1-5 with the man advantage and held Penticton scoreless on five power play opportunities.
The game meant nothing to both squads as far as the standings are concerned as each had locked up a playoff spot.
The Centennials clinched third place and a date with the Vipers in the opening round of the playoffs Friday.
The Cents went into Salmon Arm and, in front of 2,125 fans at the Shaw Centre, scored five unanswered goals, including four in the second period, to dump the Silverbacks 5-1.
Merritt hosted the Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday, the Warriors entertained the Surrey Eagles and the Silverbacks visited Penticton.
Merritt clinched third as, even if all three teams ended up tied in points, they have the most wins.
If Salmon Arm and West Kelowna remained tied after Saturday, it would go to the third tie breaker – superior goal differential from games played between tied teams – to determine who finished fourth and will meet Penticton in round one.
Salmon Arm outscored West Kelowna 23-20 in the seven games between the two teams.
SNAKE BITES: Vernon and Merritt have met six times in the playoffs in their franchises’ histories, with Vernon winning every series. Both franchises were also part of a round-robin playoff format in the Interior Conference in 1989-90, won by the Vernon Lakers…Former Vipers captain and assistant coach Dave Robinson scored UBC’s only goal in a 3-1 loss Friday to Vernon’s James Dobrowolski and the Alberta Golden Bears in Game 1 of the CIS Canada West semifinal in Edmonton.