All through the intermissions Saturday night at Wesbild Centre, fans were asking one another the same question: Who are these guys?
These guys were the Vernon Vipers, who in Game 16 of the B.C. Hockey League season, registered an extraordinary 5-1 victory over the Chilliwack Chiefs before 1,300 raucous fans.
The Vipers finished a rough October at 2-4-0-3 with their finest 60 minutes of the season, matching the gritty and rugged Chiefs in hits, trash talking and battles for 50-50 pucks to end a six-game losing skid.
Their woeful powerplay perked up with a 2-for-5 showing, their sorry penalty kill worked wonders all five times and go-to-guy Pearce Eviston busted out of the scoring yips with two beauties.
“I think it’s definitely the best we’ve played,” said Eviston, a talented 19-year-old who was stuck at one snipe. “We all felt good, we were clicking out there and it was a good game overall.
“We were a desperate team; we really wanted it. We’re on a bit of a slump right now but that was just a game we really needed to kick that slump a little bit there.”
Eviston, who the Vipers tried to obtain two years ago from the Victoria Grizzlies, scored 18 times in 38 games that season and had just one goal in 18 games with the Portland Winterhawks last year.
“That felt really good. I haven’t scored since the beginning of the season. I was getting opportunities, I just couldn’t bury ‘em and tonight, I was just clicking. Logan Mick, on my line tonight, he was passing the puck really well and we clicked for sure.”
Mick, a 16-year-old rookie, was promoted to the second line with Eviston and Adam Tambellini. He crashed into Chiefs’ goalie Mitch Gillam and was penalized for interference with eight minutes left.
The Chiefs, led by d-man Shay Laurent, tried to get payback for the next few shifts while Mick kept laying the body.
“He was for sure (Public Enemy No. 1).”
said Eviston. “That’s the way he plays. He’s kind of pesky, but he’s got lots of skill. He can pass the puck, he can shoot it too.”
To beat Gillam, the shots have to be good and the Vipers scored on some post-card attempts.
TJ Dumonceaux, blessed with hands built by Acme Pillows, centered the top line with Aaron Hadley and Mitch Van Teeling, and converted a pass from Eviston with a high wrister 38 seconds into an early powerplay.
The Chiefs equalized midway through the second period and Laurent netted his first of the season after Viper goalie Austin Smith stopped two whacks by Trevor Hills.
Eviston made it 2-1 Vipers with a low one-timer, on a feed by Mick, with 58 seconds left in the second period.
“I thought early, they seemed to be composed and after they scored the first goal, they got more energized,” said Chilliwack head coach Harvey Smyl. “One of our goals was to try to get the first goal of the night and see if we can get them back on their heels. They got the first and the crowd got into it. There was some hard-nosed stuff going on and sometimes that can go either way and I think tonight it worked in their favour where they got more into the game.”
Jedd Soleway ended up in the net on top of Gillam after tipping a hard pass by Tambellini seven minutes into the third. Tambellini wired a lazer with 21 seconds left in a 5-on-3 man advantage nine minutes later.
Eviston completed the offence by going top shelf with 77 seconds remaining. Mick and Tambellini drew assists.
With fans around the rink, and on the Network 54 website, calling for Jason Williamson to be fired, Eviston said the Vipers especially wanted to snap their winless streak for their head coach.
“He’s doing everything he can right now,” said the Vancouver product. “It’s just a matter of us all doing the right things out there and kind of clicking as a group and we did tonight. It was good to win that game for Willy. We’ve faced a lot of adversity so far and we have to keep rolling with this win.”
The gritty Chiefs, who missed three Grade A scoring chances in the second period, were first in the Mainland Division coming into the tilt and forced the Vipers to up their intensity and work rate for the entire 60 minutes. Vernon outshot Chilliwack 31-30.
Smith, who caddied for the WHL Swift Current Broncos’ Jon Groenhedye last year at 3-7-1, is maintaining a positive mind-set as he rates a star every night.
“There’s been lots of shots the last few games,” said Smith, a Calgary product. “It’s been frustrating but you keep pushing and you keep working and good things will come.
“We had to have that game. Everyone was going and everyone was doing what they could. When you’re losing, you’ve gotta find something. They’re the best team on the Coast so the guys have their confidence back now and we should be good to go.”
Smith has played all but two games and while the longest streak he faced last year was two or three starts, he trained extra hard this summer and relishes the action. He’s among the Viper leaders and wants to see consistency and accountability throughout the young roster.
“That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to get the younger guys to realize what it takes. You come out of Midget Triple A and it’s ‘Whatever, we lost, I didn’t play tonight so why should I be upset?.’ But as soon as those guys realize, it doesn’t matter whether they got three or 10 shifts, you give it your all and if you start to lose, you’re going to be upset.
“You gotta push the guys and get ‘em going and make sure they’re always giving their best. We’ve got lots of guys who can push to do that.”
D-man Ryan Renz and Chiefs’ captain David Thompson went toe-to-toe in a spirited, even second-period scrap.
The Vipers (4-7-0-5) begin a 10-game Movember with a Friday night home date with Mike Vandekamp’s Nanaimo Clippers (8-6-0-1).
Vernon minor hockey graduates Ken Holland (GM of the Detroit Red Wings), Brent Gilchrist and Eddie Johnstone will handle the ceremonial faceoff. They and fellow Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame inductees Jackie Little, Brad Kuhn’s curling team and Keith Brewis will be honoured at centre ice. The hall of fame luncheon is Friday at the Schubert Centre.