The Vernon Vipers rung in the new year by grabbing a share of the B.C. Hockey League Interior Conference penthouse with the Penticton Vees.
Darren Nowick (shorthanded) Kyle Murphy and Pat McGillis, into an empty net, handled the offence as the Vipers shaded the Vees 3-1 in a fast-paced showdown before 1,778 fans Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.
Nowick, a rookie out of Los Angeles, found an open net in front after McGillis’s shot was stopped by Joel Rumpel at 6:28 of the second period. Defenceman Adam Thompson started the play with 24 seconds remaining in John Knisley’s interference penalty. It was Nowick’s second goal of the year.
The Vipers went up 2-0 seven minutes later when Kyle Murphy drove hard to the net and buried a feed by Marcus Basara, who had sped down the right wing after taking a nice outlet pass from Todd Skirving. It was Murphy’s 12th of the year.
Penticton pulled to within one 1:39 later, on the powerplay when Tampa Bay Lightning draft Brendan O’Donnell went high on Blake Voth from five feet out. Newcomer Myles McCauley of Ontario, who had six goals in his first seven games with the Vees, and the BCHL’s leading defenceman, Joey Laleggia drew the assists.
Laleggia, who has 54 points, started the play by ripping a point shot off the back boards. The goal came 58 seconds into Nowick’s holding minor.
Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner was excited to see Nowick get rewarded with a goal.
“He hasn’t put up the numbers he’s wanted, but he’s so invaluable,” said Ferner. “We know what we’re going to get out of him every night. We can put him in situations to take faceoffs. He’s good on the draw. He’s got such a great work ethic. It’s nice to see him get some success offensively as far as putting a few points up. He’s a hard-working kid at both ends of the rink.”
Nowick, who hit the post early in the third period, enjoyed a solid showing with linemates McGillis and Aaron Hadley.
“It was just a good team effort overall,” said Nowick. “We knew it was a big game and we were ready for it.”
The Vees outshot the Vipers 9-6 in the first period, something rarely accomplished at Wesbild. The teams finished with 30 shots apiece.
“I thought it was a well-played game by both sides,” said Ferner. “I thought they got the momentum early with that early powerplay (26 seconds in) and our guys didn’t steer away from what they were doing. We knew if we worked hard, we’d get back into it. It was one of those games that could have went either way.”
The Vipers, who kept the dangerous Vees to the perimeter most of the night, improved to 22-8-4-7. The Vees dipped to 26-11-2-1.
Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson likely won’t tweak his roster at the Jan. 10 deadline.
“We’ve got one card left, but I’m pretty happy with our guys,” said Harbinson. “Our effort was pretty good tonight against a good hockey club. When you look at the top teams in our division right now, it’s anybody’s game and I think we’re gonna be right there at the end of the year.”
Blake Voth was steady in earning his 18th win of the season.
The Vipers host the Langley Chiefs Thursday night before starting a home and home with the Westside Warriors Friday night in West Kelowna.