Ambrose Firkus turned the hat trick, including the winner, as the West Kelowna Warriors held off the Vernon Vipers 5-4 in B.C. Hockey League exhibition action Saturday night at Royal LePage Place.
Trailing by a pair late in the second period, the Vipers battled to make it 4-4, but Firkus converted on a late West Kelowna powerplay to salt the game.
The Snakes, who ended the preseason at 2-3, open the regular season at the Bauer Showcase tournament this weekend in Chilliwack. Vernon faces the reigning Fred Page Cup champion Surrey Eagles Saturday morning (11:30), followed by a Sunday-night (6:00) tilt against the Chilliwack Chiefs.
“It was a much better effort than Friday night (3-1 loss to Warriors at Kal Tire Place),” said Vipers’ associate coach Kris Mallette.
“Our compete was a 100 times better. Things seemed to work a lot better.
“It’ll be nice to get a week of practice in before the Showcase.”
Returning Viper d-man Jason Bird, with the first of two goals, ripped a shot, bar-down, to open the scoring on an early first-period powerplay.
“He’s got one of the hardest shots I’ve seen so far,” said Mallette.
Vernon went down to four d-men in the first period as Josh Bryan was tossed for fighting West Kelowna captain Matt Anholt, and Mark Hamilton was ejected for crosschecking former North Okanagan Knight Mackenzie Ferner in the face.
Veteran forward Colton Sparrow subbed in on the blueline to give Vernon’s defenders a reprieve.
Firkus equalized on a Warriors’ man advantage later in the period. Brennan Clark put the hosts up by a goal early in the second frame.
Liam Coughlin collected the 2-2 goal, beating Steven Myland from in close off a feed from Dexter Dancs.
Singles by Firkus and Liam Blackburn put the Warriors up by two before the Vipers’ TJ Dumonceaux set up Logan Mick on a late 2-on-1.
“The goals they scored were on some pretty interesting breakdowns on our part,” said Mallette, adding netminder Austin Smith had no chance on a couple of them.
With Vernon on a 5-on-3, Michael McNicholas fed Bird for his second snipe in the third period.
Mallette, a Kelowna Rocket grad and former minor pro defenceman, will be working with Vernon’s defence and penalty kill. He likes what he sees so far, but said there is still room for improvement.
“Even with three 20s, they’re still a bit raw, and they do have a lot to learn, but there’s a good base for them.”
Vernon has to cut two players to finalize its 22-man roster, and name captains, before the season begins.
The Vipers’ home opener is against the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Saturday, Sept. 14 (7 p.m.) at Kal Tire Place.