The Vernon Vipers brought their appetites to Wesbild Centre Friday night. The main course – the Interior Conference-leading Trail Smoke Eaters.
David Robinson sparked the Vernon offence with two goals and a first-star performance as the Vipers devoured the Smokies 4-1 before 1,800 fans.
The Viper captain opened the scoring early, barreling up the right wing and ripping a shot past Kiefer Smiley for his 14th goal at 3:15.
The Smokies responded a minute later when birthday boy Clayton McEwan collected his first of the season, directing a one-handed chip past Blake Voth. Trail’s Sam Mellor sidestepped a check from Trevor Fitzgerald at the blueline before delivering the centering pass for the assist.
Kyle Murphy (7th) got a slight touch on defenceman Elliott Richardson’s point shot to give Vernon a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
Vernon head coach Mark Ferner talked a lot with his team about working for their opportunities, and he started to see that happen during their recent four-game road swing on the coast. It carried over to Friday night.
“This trip that we went on, we like to think that might have turned a little corner with our work ethic,” he said.
“The process is sometimes more important than the result. It all goes back to work ethic. It’s nice to see some of our guys get success because of it.”
After nearly half a game of penalty-free hockey, the Smoke Eaters, now tied for second in the Interior at 19-10-0-1, started taking sloppy penalties and the fourth-place Vipers (15-8-1-6) made them pay.
Second star Marcus Basara (2A) delivered a quick feed to the front of the net where Robinson angled the puck past Smiley for his team-high 15th goal, a powerplay marker at 13:25.
With the recent acquisition of forward Zach McPhee, Ferner took the opportunity to juggle all his lines in search of some offensive chemistry.
Basara, a Coquitlam native, made the most of his time on a line with veterans Bryce Kakoske (third star) and Robinson.
“It was good playing with those players and it was good to hook up out on the ice,” said Basara, 17. “A couple good plays by Kak and he got the puck down low to me and I slid it over to Dave and a nice finish by him.
“We knew coming into the game that it was a huge, huge game for us, probably the biggest of the season so far. And to come out and do it in a 4-1 fashion is something that we needed for our hockey club. It gives us confidence moving forward now.”
Despite missing his top scorer (Scott Jacklin) and two of his best defencemen (Jake Baker and Rajan Sidhu), Trail head coach Jim Ingram wasn’t about to ease up on his team’s lacklustre performance.
“We were gross. We didn’t deserve to win, we didn’t win any puck battles,” he said. “They were just a hungrier team and we were sitting there waiting around.
“It (missing key players) doesn’t matter, you have to find a way to compete.
“I call into question what we’re trying to accomplish here if they think that’s going to get the job done. That isn’t even close to the team that I stand behind the bench of.”
The Smokies have had to use 36 call-ups so far this year, including Vernon’s Tanner Burns (KIJHL Nelson Leafs), who played his fifth game with Trail Friday night.
About the only Trail player Ingram had any praise for was Smiley (32 saves), who aside from Vernon’s first goal, was solid most of the night.
Said the Trail tender: “I don’t know why, but we just decided not to show up. It was an unfortunate loss and an important one at that.”
At the other end, Voth wasn’t overly busy facing 16 shots, but he came up with a few beauty saves.
The Herbert, Sask. product, who will undoubtedly be cheering on the Roughriders in today’s 98th Grey Cup, stuffed Logan Proulx on a breakaway early in the third period.
He then came up with a Dominik Hasek-like glove save on Paul Mailey a little later in the frame. It came on the shift after Vernon’s fourth goal by Fitzgerald (7th), and it helped to keep his team’s momentum.
The Vipers’ Aaron Hadley set up the goal by forcing a turnover behind the Trail net, then firing a quick feed to Fitzgerald in the slot for a five-hole one-timer.
The Vipers, 4-3-0-3 in their last 10 games, entertain the Westside Warriors (16-9-1-2) Friday night at Wesbild, and complete the home-and-home series Saturday at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna.
The fifth-place Warriors trail the Vipers by two points.
They end next weekend with a Sunday matinee against the Surrey Eagles (16-11-1-1) at Wesbild.