Morning Star Staff
A Western League refugee, Austin Smith appears to have finally found his form and a home with the Vernon Vipers.
The 20-year-old net detective was brilliant in a pair of B.C. Hockey League wins and was Monday named the BCHL Player of the Week.
After shutting out the last-place Trail Smoke Eaters 5-0 in a first-star showing Friday night, the Calgary product recorded 37 stops and was named first star as the Vipers grounded the second-place West Kelowna Warriors Saturday night.
It marked the first time Vernon has won at Royal LePage Place since September, 2011 and the win came in front of 1,432 fans, the largest crowd this season at RLP.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder had a .986 save percentage to go along with a 0.53 GAA. Honourable mentions included Viper forward Liam Coughlin, who finished with 3+3 on the weekend.
Smith landed in the Vipers’ den last year after playing 31 games over two seasons with the WHL Swift Current Broncos. He has now played 69 games for Vernon and is 14-10-3 with a 2.59 GAA and .919 save mark.
“He was good both games,” said Viper head coach Jason Williamson. “We took six penalties (in West Kelowna) and he made some saves early in the game and was good on the PK. He’s confident and that injects some confidence in the whole group. Everybody is on their toes, not their heels.”
The Vipers, who have scored six or more goals just five times, improved to 25-15-4-5, moving within three points of the Warriors in the Interior Conference.
The Salmon Arm SilverBacks iced the frontrunning Penticton Vees 4-1 for their fifth straight win, shifting them three points back of Vernon and a single digit ahead of the Merritt Centennials, 9-6 winners over the Smokies.
Vernon has nine games left, including a home and home with the second overall Langley Rivermen starting Friday at the Coast. The teams meet Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
Kelowna minor hockey grad T.J. Dumonceaux netted his fifth of the season seven minutes in Saturday, burying a shot top shelf as he was falling. D-man Riley Guenther and Demico Hannoun drew assists.
Dexter Dancs dialed up his 22nd eight minutes later when he celebrated his 19th birthday with a gorgeous one-timer. Helpers went to Michael McNicholas and Coughlin.
The Warriors, who had gained points in 13 straight games, had numerous chances to respond, but some spectacular netminding by Smith and the inability to find loose pucks kept them scoreless.
“We’ve scored three goals in more than two games here. We’re going to have to score more than that obviously to have some success,” Warriors’ head coach Rylan Ferster said on the team’s web site. “At this time of year you just want to be playing better. I don’t know if I have all the answers. We’re disappointed but we’ll give Vernon credit.”
Kelowna product Brett Mulcahy, with his 27th, from Brendan Persley and Colton Sparrow, made it 3-0 early in the second period.
Coughlin, from the slot, just 2:02 into the third, on feeds from McNicholas and Dancs, put Vernon up by four before former Prince Albert Raider Tyson Dallman banged in his 17th just 30 seconds later, from Matt Anholt and Reid Simmonds.
Sparrow converted his ninth off the post and in with five minutes left after a relentless forecheck caused a turnover. Mulcahy and Hannoun counted assists.
Coughlin, with his 16th, from McNicholas and Ryan Renz, completed the offence with 3:31 to play.
“All the goals were really nice,” said Williamson. “We seem to have found some chemistry in all four of our lines.”
SNAKE BITES: Warriors’ G Andy Desautels made 31 saves…The Vipers also face West Kelowna, Salmon Arm and Penticton at home, while facing road tilts with Trail (2), Penticton and Merritt…Vipers’ F Mason Blacklock, who was on an MVP pace before getting injured, is at least a week from leaving the IR list…Langley (30-12-2-5) is big and physical like the Vipers, and have 10 players with U.S. scholarships. The Rivermen are led by Minnesota’s Mitch McLain (21 goals and 53 points) and 6-foot-6, 225-pound Chicago product Matt Ustaski (21G)…Vernon has signed local forwards Blaine Caton and Jagger Williamson for next season. Caton plays for the Junior B North Okanagan Knights, while Williamson is a first-year Vernon Midget Tier 1 Viper drafted last year by the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds.