SPRUCE GROVE – The Vernon Vipers invested some extra time on their powerplay in practice Tuesday morning, and it paid dividends in Game 4 of the Doyle Cup regional hockey series Wednesday night at Grant Fuhr Arena.
The Snakes struck twice on the man advantage and got a 21-save performance from game MVP Kirby Halcrow as they grounded the host Spruce Grove Saints 3-1, tying the best-of-seven series 2-2 in front of a full house (1,275 fans).
Games 5 and 6 go Thursday and Saturday night respectively; if necessary, Game 7 would go Sunday. The winner advances to the RBC national Junior A championships, April 30-May 8 in Camrose.
Halcrow, whose father and several other family members drove four hours south from Grouard, was called upon heavily in the first period when the Saints had the Vipers on their heels, outshooting the visitors 14-5. The towering netminder slid cross-crease to make a terrific glove save on Saints’ game MVP Brett Switzer midway through the period.
With the momentum steadily growing in their favour, the Saints suffered a major setback when referees Dion Pollard and Jonathan Spurgeon simultaneously called minors against the Saints with a minute to go in the period. Matthew Benning went off for boarding captain David Robinson and Dustin Fostvelt went off for high sticking.
On the ensuing 5-on-3, veteran defenceman Adam Thompson ripped a point shot past Vincenzo Marozzi with six seconds left in the period. Stevie Weinstein and Dylan Walchuk drew assists and Bryce Kakoske used his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame to provide the screen.
Trevor Fitzgerald made it 2-0 Vernon midway through the second period, burying a quick shot as he barged through the low slot.
With the Vipers on a 4-on-3 advantage, forward Mike Zalewski fired top shelf over a sprawled Marozzi (17 saves) to complete the Viper scoring.
Switzer, a former Viper, spoiled Halcrow’s shutout bid with 31 seconds to play.
For a complete recap of Game 4, check out the sports section in Friday’s Morning Star.