With his top scorer on a flydown to Northern Michigan, Vernon Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner tried a little chemistry experiment Friday night at Royal LePage Place.
It paid off handsomely as Kyle Murphy, filling in at centre for Dylan Walchuk, turned in a first-star performance, leading the Snakes to a 4-1 win over the Westside Warriors before 952 B.C. Hockey League fans.
Murphy set up fellow 20-year-old linemates Bryce Kakoske (4th goal) and David Robinson (4th) for goals, and collected his third tally of the season to jumpstart Vernon’s struggling offence.
The Snakes are fourth-to-last in league scoring, so Ferner was pleased with Friday night’s outburst.
“It’s nice to be able to try new things and they were very good. We might keep that line together.”
Ferner cited Murphy’s goal, scored on netminder Cam Gorchynski’s doorstep during a powerplay late in the second period, as the type of effort the Vipers will need to boost their offence.
“He knew he was going to take a hit, but I bet he felt pretty good after scoring it,” he said.
“Scoring goals isn’t easy. A lot of these guys were offensive-minded guys wherever they played before, but this is another step and they can’t take things for granted.”
However, Ferner noted that when you put a trio 20-year-olds together, you should get results.
“Ya, the 20-year-olds should play well, they should dominate, they should get their opportunities.”
Westside controlled the play early, heavily outshooting Vernon in the opening 10 minutes. But it was Kakoske who opened the scoring, beating Gorchynski (21 saves) five-hole from the faceoff circle.
“They had a good start. In the first period they took it to us. But then we settled down and got back to doing simple things,” said Ferner.
“We were fortunate to get the first goal, and that helped a lot.”
Westside equalized late in the first as Viper d-man Malcolm Lyles’ powerplay point shot rebounded off the end boards and out of the zone to Matthew Maher, who was just stepping out of the penalty box. Maher (third star) beat netminder Blake Voth (24 saves) on a clear breakaway.
“It was timed perfectly,” grinned Ferner. “A second later and it would have been all the way down in our end.”
Vernon (6-4-1-2) restored their lead early in the second period thanks to a solid forecheck by Mike Zalewski. Creating a turnover behind the net, he set up Aaron Hadley (2nd) for a point-blank strike.
Hadley, a Castlegar product, was ejected late in the second period for a hit from behind. Referee Andrew Guest tossed the Warriors’ Grayson Downing for the same infraction a few minutes earlier.
Despite an up-and-down start to their season, the fourth-place Vipers trail the first-place Salmon Arm SilverBacks (9-2) by just three points. If ever there was a time for parity in the league, Ferner is glad it is happening now as the youthful Vipers hope to stay within striking distance as they adjust to life in the BCHL.
“You look at our group… and we’re right there, we’re getting better,” he said.
The Vipers, who were also without Marcus Basara and Max Mowat Friday night due to illness, hosted Westside (5-5-1) Saturday at Wesbild Centre.
The Vipers have dealt defenceman Taylor Love to the Victoria Grizzlies for future considerations.
Love, the son of former Pittsburgh Steeler Pro Bowler, Duval Love, was the odd man out on a crowded Viper blueline. Rather than let the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Love stagnate in the press box, Ferner offered to move him.
“He’s good enough to play in this league… and I’m not going to hold kids back. We found him a place where he is going to play, and we’re happy for him,” said Ferner.
In three games with the Vipers, Love, a Mission Viego, Calif. product, recorded one assist and four penalty minutes.
In other BCHL action Friday night, the host Salmon Arm SilverBacks doubled the Merritt Centennials 4-2 in a penalty-filled affair at the Sunwave Centre.
With the game all but over and the SilverBacks enjoying a 5-on-3 man advantage, a line brawl broke out in the dying seconds. Referee Brett Barnes handed game misconducts to all players involved, including Salmon Arm keeper Kris Moore and Merritt tender Tyler Steel, a Vernon product. The incident is currently under review by the league, with suspensions and/or fines pending.