Vipers' defenceman Philip Patenaude takes a ride on the rail courtesy of Penticton Vees' Carter Rigby as they chase the puck behind the net in BCHL action Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.

Vipers' defenceman Philip Patenaude takes a ride on the rail courtesy of Penticton Vees' Carter Rigby as they chase the puck behind the net in BCHL action Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.

Vipers outlast depleted Vees to build Interior cushion

The Penticton Vees look more like a hospital ward than a hockey team at the moment. Yet despite missing seven regulars from the lineup – four with the flu, two with head injuries and captain Derik Johnson serving a suspension – the Vees made the Vernon Vipers work for a 3-2 B.C. Hockey League win Saturday night at Wesbild Centre. Vernon now has an eight-point lead in the Interior Conference, while the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (34-17-2-0) moved into a two-way tie for second with Penticton (33-17-2-2), but have more wins, and a game in hand on the Vees (two on Vernon). The Vipers visit the SilverBacks tonight at the Sunwave Centre and entertain the Merritt Centennials (20-27-1-6) Friday at Wesbild. They are 1-5-0-1 in their season series with the Gorillas. “We’ve struggled against Salmon Arm so it’ll be a good measuring stick showing us where we are going into playoffs,” said Viper forward Pat McGillis, who earned first star against the Vees. “When we play 5-on-5 against Salmon Arm we outplay them, but when we go down shorthanded, or when we keep pucks to the outside and can’t get good scoring opportunities, that’s when they beat us.” Vernon, who dominated their season series with the Vees at 5-0-1, overwhelmed Penticton in the opening frame, outshooting the visitors 16-3 and earning a 2-0 lead on goals by defenceman Adam Thompson (seventh goal) and McGillis (12th). Thompson joined the rush and had Marcus Basara’s centering pass deflect off his skate past netminder Billy Faust at 3:07. It was the first whistle of the game. Shortly after a successful penalty kill, Vernon defenceman Brett Corkey fired a point shot that rebounded off the end boards and behind the net to a wide open McGillis for an open-netter. Asked if he thought Corkey’s bank shot was intentional, McGillis smiled: “I don’t know, but he’s got pretty good vision on the ice. It was a nice pass. “We had the advantage of outworking them even though they might have had a couple good shifts. The shots (43-15 in Vernon’s favour) says something, and I think we dictated the pace of the game.” The Vees cut the lead in half early in the second period when, right after a penalty kill, third star Logan Johnston intercepted a puck in the neutral zone charged across the blueline and ripped a shot top corner on Viper netminder Blake Voth (13 saves). Vernon restored the two-goal cushion on a powerplay late in the second frame when Malcolm Lyles delivered a slick slap pass to Bryce Kakoske at the side of the net for a quick redirect goal. Lyles, who earned third star, drew a pair of hooking penalties as Penticton players tried to slow him down on the rush. Said Vipers’ assistant coach Jason Williamson: “They’re missing some guys and for whatever reason sometimes those games are tough to play. Their goalie gave them a chance to win and we missed some opportunities early to put the game out of reach.” Penticton answered on the very next shift as Grant Nicholson was credited for his first BCHL goal on a scramble at 18:26. “(Tyler) Hlookoff came down, shot it and it just went in off my shin pad. A lucky goal. Any kind are good,” smiled Nicholson, who plays with the KIJHL Penticton Lakers. Grant is the son of Bob Nicholson, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, who played with the Penticton Broncos in the early 70s. The 17-year-old Calgary native is thrilled to be following the family legacy. “It’s nice just to follow him and be part of what he did,” said Grant. Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson was impressed with how his call-ups handled the pressure. “When you have eight regulars out of the lineup, it’s pretty tough. The APs (affiliate players) we brought up were outstanding. It’s a great environment for them to come in and play.” With a first-round bye looking more and more improbable, Harbinson is now focussing on getting his lineup healthy for the post-season. “It doesn’t really matter where you finish. You’re still going to have to go through some darn good hockey clubs to get out of our division. “The nice thing is the flu can’t stick around for too long and the guys that have the injuries will hopefully be back before playoffs.” Meanwhile, Stefan Jensen recorded three goals as the Osoyoos Coyotes outlasted the North Okanagan Knights 4-3 in KIJHL action Sunday afternoon at Nor-Val Sports Centre. The Knights (18-28-1-1) built up a 3-2 lead early in the second period on goals by Patrick Chore (11th), Thomas Swales (fifth) and Steve Pantazopolous (sixth). Jensen’s hat trick goal (43rd) five minutes into the third frame stood as the winner. The Knights visit the first-place Coyotes (39-2-2-4) Friday at the Osoyoos Sun Bowl and end their regular season Saturday against the host Revelstoke Grizzlies (38-9-0-1) at the Forum. SNAKE BITES: The Vees’ Garrett Milan and Mark MacMillan missed Saturday’s game with concussions. They dressed Nicholson and four Coyotes in their place…In other BCHL weekend action, former Viper Steve Tresierra collected two goals and an assist as the host Merritt Centennials grounded the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 4-3 Sunday at Nicola Valley Arena.