Even without three of their big guns, the Vernon Vipers wielded plenty of firepower Wednesday night at Wesbild Centre.
Marcus Basara and Darren Nowick each had a goal and two assists as the Snakes set a season-high offensive output in a 7-1 dismantling of the Penticton Vees in front of 1,350 B.C. Hockey League fans.
First star Mike Zalewski added a pair of goals to help Vernon (10-4) earn its first win in three attempts against Penticton (11-3-0-1).
“We were definitely prepared from the drop of the puck,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson, who called up Vernon forward Cole Sanford (Revelstoke Grizzlies) and defenceman John Saunders (North Okanagan Knights).
“You could see it even in the morning skate that our guys just had a different mind set and were ready to go tonight.
“We were relentless. If you’re hunting pucks down you’re going to get rewarded.”
Both teams had a trio of players – forward Aaron Hadley and d-men Brett Corkey and Luke Juha for Vernon, and forwards Travis St. Denis and Curtis Loik, and d-man Troy Stetcher for Penticton – away at Team Canada West camp for the World Junior A Challenge, which starts Monday in Langley.
After sluggish starts in their first two encounters with Penticton, the Vipers came out flying Wednesday, swarming the Vees’ zone with a hard forecheck.
Nowick (second star) created a turnover in the high slot and shovelled a short pass to Zalewski (10th goal), who went roof daddy from a tricky angle on Michael Garteig midway through the period.
Just over a minute later, Nowick (11th), playing on a makeshift line with Basara and Riley Hunt, circled in from the sidewall and flicked a backhander that fooled Garteig, five-hole.
Vees’ interim captain Joey Benik (regular captain Logan Johnston is suspended) said his team had too many defensive lapses to make a game of it.
“It was just all on our mistakes. They played great in all three games we played against them and this last one here just didn’t go our way,” said the Andover, Minn. product.
Colton Sparrow (5th), standing on Garteig’s doorstep, one-timed a quick centering feed by Basara to make it 3-0 on an early second-period powerplay.
Basara, who is fourth in team scoring with a dozen points in 14 games, said team speed helped Vernon avoid penalty trouble against a potent Penticton powerplay. Each team was assessed just two minors.
“I don’t know if they were expecting us to come at them so hard,” said the Coquitlam native. “We were moving our feet and that’s what happens. You don’t have to take those hooking and holding penalties we were taking against them (earlier).
“We just kept our feet moving and Papp (Steve, referee) couldn’t really call anything on us tonight.”
Penticton got on the board when Vernon defenceman Geoff Crisfield whiffed on a clearing attempt from behind the net, coughing up the puck to Connor Reilly (9th) for an easy one-timer at 4:26.
Crisfield earned a measure of revenge on the next shift as he stapled Reilly to the sidewall as he raced up the wing, however, Penticton held the momentum.
The visitors nearly made it a one-goal game when Minnesota Wild draft pick Mario Lucia batted in a puck behind netminder Kirby Halcrow, but Papp deemed he used a high stick.
Boosted by Halcrow’s 31-save performance, the Vipers withstood plenty of Penticton pressure in the second period and then caught a lucky break on a powerplay early in the third period. Viper d-man Ryan Renz hobbled Ryan Reilly with a hard dump-in and forward Adam Tambellini (9th) raced in to scoop up the loose puck and beat Garteig (31 saves) with a top-shelf backhand-forehand deke.
For Penticton head coach Fred Harbinson, the play was pivotal.
“When we made it 3-1, we had plenty of chances to make it 3-2,” he said. “The backbreaker was the powerplay goal with a few seconds left. They blast it in our zone, it hits our guy’s leg and it goes right to them and they score. From there on I think our guys quit.
“It’s not panic time, but it’s a lesson these guys are going to have to learn. It’s 3-1 going into the third and they (Vernon) get a break – it’s not the time to quit.”
Zalewski (11th), on a rebound off the end boards, and Basara (3rd), sniping the top corner on Garteig’s far side, made it 6-1 Vernon with 12 minutes to go.
Saunders, a Kelowna native, completed the offence with his first-ever BCHL goal on a deflected point shot with 20 seconds to play.
With Corkey and Juha away, Wednesday was a good chance for some of the Vipers’ younger d-men to step up.
“We knew we had a big game on our dee corps,” said second-year player Max Mowat, who was thrilled to see Saunders rewarded on the scoresheet.
“It gives guys a chance to shine out there and see what they can actually do. The vets that are here had to step up big and help the younger guys out tonight.”
The Vipers visit the last-place Trail Smoke Eaters (2-9-1-2) tonight at Cominco Arena before returning to Wesbild Saturday to entertain the Chilliwack Chiefs (6-6-0-1).
SNAKE BITES: Vernon native Tyler Steel collected the win, his fifth of the season, as the Merritt Centennials shaded the host Salmon Arm SilverBacks 3-2 in overtime Wednesday night at the Sunwave Centre…Former Vipers Connor and Kellen Jones and Scott Zureviski combined for five points as the Quinnipiac Bobcats stuffed the Princeton Tigers 5-2 in their ECAC opener Tuesday night at Hobey Baker Arena in New Jersey. Connor assisted on Kellen’s second-period winner.