With most teenagers at home playing the highly hyped new Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3 video game, the Vernon Vipers were forced to spend Tuesday night playing yet another hockey game.
It was their fourth in seven days and while the game sorely lacked the thrill-a-second action of an Xbox experience, the Vipers found enough energy to knock off the injury-riddled Westside Warriors 2-1 before 1,260 fans at the Wesbild Centre.
The Vipers moved to 12-5, two points back of the B.C. Hockey League Interior Conference-leading Penticton Vees. Westside dropped to 7-8-2, one digit behind the fourth-place Chilliwack Chiefs and Prince George Spruce Kings.
Westside had four regulars and most of their offence out with injuries and one forward, Shawn Hochhausen, on suspension. They summoned affilates Devon Hascarl (Vernon product), Dylan Rota, Braeden Monk and TJ Dumonceaux from Junior B.
Vernon was without forward Aaron Hadley and defencemen Brett Corkey and Luke Juha at the World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Langley.
The Vipers got goals from Mike Zalewski (13th) and Jedd Soleway (3rd), while Tyler Krause replied for the Warriors with his 10th. Westside outshot Vernon 30-26 with both Kirby Halcrow of the Snakes and Steve Racine of the Warriors sharp whenever there was a scoring chance.’
“All the lines were clicking tonight and so was Kirby,” said Viper centre Johnny Knisley. “We were shorthanded on the back end with five dee there and I thought they played great all night.”
Knisley, who showed even more jump than usual, skated figure eights before looking off d-man Max Mowat at the right point and feeding Zalewiski at the left side of the crease, with 69 seconds left in the second period.
“I cut to the middle there and I was thinking shot and I just saw the big diesel standing there in front and I passed it to him and he chipped it in. Our line has great chemistry so we just always know where each other are.”
Knisley, who blew a tire on a two-on-one break with Adam Tambellini early in the third, jokingly gave props to his breakfast routine for his extra peppy play.
“I don’t know, maybe it was the extra glass of milk in the morning. I felt good out there. They’ve been struggling lately and we knew they would come out hard tonight. They’re always a hard-working team and it’s a battle everytime we play them so we have to bring our A game.”
Soleway, a major physical force at 17, had his best game as a Viper, playing on an energy line with Pete McMullen and Alex Hagen that was dangerous all night. Soleway buried a Hagen dish into an empty net to make it 2-0 Vipers 5:13 into the third period.
Said Soleway: “I kind of made a wonky pass back to him and I was hoping he would score on the quick breakaway there, but he ended up going around the net and I was right at the top of the crease and if that one didn’t go in, I’m pretty sure my line would have beat me up there for missing that chance.”
McMullen and Hagen are both strong skaters, and while McMullen appears to have oven mitts on at times, he battles hard for the puck. Hagen handles the disc as well as fellow centres Darren Nowick and Adam Tambellini.
“The last three games, we’ve had quite a bit of pressure offensively and we’re pretty aggressive and we definitely open up the ice a little bit and create chances,” said Soleway. “Tonight, we were a little frustrated that we didn’t get goals earlier because I had a golden opportunity and broke my stick.”
Vernon’s fourth line of Riley Hunt, Connor Hartley and call-up Chris Derochie (Beaver Valley Nitehawks) also enjoyed some stellar shifts. Derochie just missed on a scramble and Hunt rocked the much bigger Izaak Berglund behind the Warriors’ net, with 2:30 to play.
Zalewski owes Halcrow lunch at Quizno’s after he took a selfish tripping penalty with 69 seconds remaining. Krause scored on a wild scramble, 17 seconds into the powerplay, with Racine on the bench for a sixth attacker. Halcrow was making a strong bid for his third career shutout.
Halcrow’s premier stop of the night came on an earlier third-period powerplay when towering d-man Michael King cruised through a few defenders right to the net.
“It hit the back of his pad and rolled right across the crease there,” said a dejected King, who has a scholarship locked up with Colorado College
“We definitely had the work ethic tonight, but didn’t get the bounces. We had a bunch of APs in the lineup, but that’s no excuse because they played great. We’ve got a lot of injuries we’re working through right now, and we’re frustrated. We just need some lucky bounces here and there.”
Westside head coach Rylan Ferster, with his top guns on the shelf, expected somebody else to deliver some offence.
“We competed pretty hard and I thought some of our best players were guys without names on their jerseys,” said Ferster, who helped the Vernon Lakers win the 1990 Centennial Cup.
“For us, we have to to have guys step up. Guys with names on their jerseys have to step up. We are missing a lot of goals out of our lineup, but we’re not using that as an excuse.
“I thought our defence was outstanding tonight, as a group, and our goalie gave us a chance to win. Great teams win those games 2-1 and we’re still trying to become that.”
SNAKE BITES: Tambellini and trainer Gord Cochrane will represent the Vipers in the CJAHL Prospects Games this weekend in Langley…Christine Sparrow, whose son Colton was robbed by Racine on the doorstep, won $653 in the 50-50 jackpot…Krause rung a wrister off iron midway through the first…Vernon d-man Turner Lawson tossed a nifty Keith Ballard-like hip check on Dustin Cave…Vernon visits Trail Saturday night…Next Vipers’ home game is Wednesday, Nov. 23 versus Penticton.