The Vernon Vipers’ powerplay is finally emerging from its early-season coma, but it has a ways to go to catch up to the offensive potency of their penalty kill.
The Snakes’ B.C. Hockey League-leading sixth shorthanded goal was the winner Friday night as they rallied past the Merritt Centennials 4-2 at Kal Tire Place.
Trevor Fidler, with is fourth goal of the season, went in on a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Anthony Latina. The Watertown, Mass. product finished with a slick top-shelf backhander to beat Anthony Pupplo for the 3-2 goal 7:22 into the third period.
“We’re just getting really good at it; we should play shorthanded from now on, I guess,” grinned netminder Jarrod Schamerhorn, who backed the Vipers with a 37-save, third star effort.
Vernon (7-4-0-1) leapfrogged both Merritt (7-5) and the Trail Smoke Eaters (7-4) into second place in the ultra-competitive Interior Division. They visited the league-leading Penticton Vees (11-1) Saturday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees pushed their win streak to eight games with a 3-2 overtime win over the host Prince George Spruce Kings Thursday night.
The Vipers looked sluggish in the first period, and the Cents cashed in with two unanswered goals. Trying to be too fancy on a clearance attempt, Vipers’ rookie d-man Mitchell Oliver giftwrapped a puck for Merritt’s John Schiavo, who surprised Schamerhorn with a quick five-hole strike at 5:52.
Schiavo, a Long Island, NY product, leads the Cents with eight goals. He was scouted by Merritt at the NHL New York Islanders’ rookie camp this summer.
“We started hard and were playing tough in the beginning, and then they came back at us in the second,” said Schiavo, who is loving the scenery around B.C.
“We had too many penalties tonight.”
With 2:13 to play in period one, James Neil (4th goal, powerplay) chipped the rebound off a point shot over a sprawled Schamerhorn, who made a nice first save with traffic on his doorstep.
Thrill-a-minute forward Thomas Aldworth (7th), pulled Vernon within a goal 4:33 into the middle frame on a tremendous solo effort. After Blaine Caton (first star) won a defensive zone faceoff, Aldworth banked the puck past Merritt’s point man, hustled up ice and then shovelled a backhander past Pupplo.
Aldworth, named second star, added an empty netter late in the final period for his eighth goal.
With veteran centre TJ Dumonceaux sidelined with a concussion, Caton made the most of his extra ice time at pivot, scoring his first-ever BCHL goal on a Vernon powerplay with eight seconds remaining in the second frame. Liam Coughlin circled off the sidewall and snapped a shot that trickled behind Pupplo (29 saves), and the 17-year-old Caton tapped it into an open net.
“You never want anyone to get hurt, but when you do get a chance to move up, you’ve got to show you belong there,” said Caton, who has spent most of the year on an all-rookie line with Jagger Williamson and Brandon Wagner.
“I had a little bit of a rough start to the year, just getting used to the speed and physicality of the bigger guys, but I really feel like I’ve come into my own the last couple of weeks.”
Merritt head coach Luke Pierce was disappointed his team was unable to close out the game against the undermanned Vipers.
“They’re down a few guys, they had just Kevin (assistant coach Kraus) on the bench there, and they worked hard and competed really well,” said Pierce.
“We had some control in the first period and they fought back and we didn’t respond well enough.
“It’s not so much about protecting a lead, it’s about playing a smart enough game. We gifted them two goals, which is frustrating because we played well in a lot of other areas.”
SNAKE BITES: Vernon netminder Danny Todosychuk (six games) and d-man D-men Ryley Booth (two) missed Friday’s tilt serving suspensions resulting from an Oct. 18 line brawl against the West Kelowna Warriors. D-man Brandon Egli (four games) and forward Riley Brandt (six games) are also suspended, but were allowed to play Friday as the Vipers are appealing those suspensions…Vipers’ assistant coach Eric Godard, who suffers from epilepsy, went into a seizure in the dressing room before Friday’s game. With head coach Mark Ferner suspended one game and watching from the press box, Kraus flew solo behind the Vernon bench…Call-up Tyler Chavez Leech, who plays with the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies, had a solid debut. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Red Deer native hit a post, created a scoring chance after crushing a Merritt defender behind the net, and also drew a penalty…The Vipers also called up netminder Gunnar Neilson from Abbotsford’s Yale Hockey Academy…Vernon d-man Mitch Meek and Aldworth also hit the post Friday.