From listless to lights out, the Vernon Vipers have battled their way back into the Interior Conference final with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
Following Saturday night’s lacklustre 6-0 loss to the Gorillas in Game 2 of the best-of-seven B.C. Hockey League series, the Snakes used a goal and assist each from David Robinson and Patrick McGillis to slam Salmon Arm 5-1 in Game 3 Monday night at the Sunwave Centre.
Vernon trailed Salmon Arm 2-1 heading into Game 4 Tuesday night at Sunwave, with Game 5 scheduled for Thursday at Wesbild Centre. If necessary, Games 6 and 7 would go Friday and Saturday in Salmon Arm and Vernon, respectively.
“We weren’t very good and you’ve got to give Salmon Arm credit; they were the better team and we were just doing things that were out of character for our group,” said Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner, of Saturday’s lopsided loss.
“It was important that we just go out and play (in Game 3). We just simplified our game. Trust what you’re doing, trust your teammates and something good is going to happen.”
Down to just five defencemen – Max Mowat and Philip Patenaude were unable to play due to injury – the Vipers played with desperation and controlled the game from the outset.
Robinson opened the scoring when he collected d-man Malcolm Lyles’ bank shot off the end boards to beat Kris Moore at 11:46 of the first period.
The Viper captain set an example Monday night, chewing time off the clock during a penalty kill as he battled four SilverBacks behind the net while his teammates were on a change.
“Everyone knew we had more to give. We know they’re a skilled team that capitalizes on their chances. We broke down a couple times (Saturday night) and they managed to put the puck in the net,” said Robinson.
“They’ve manhandled us all year so to pick up a big win, especially down 2-0 in a series, I thought we showed a lot of character tonight.”
Linemate Bryce Kakoske made it 2-0 at 14:29 when he buried his own rebound from a sharp angle on a Viper rush.
A minute later, Brett Knowles cut the lead in half with a powerplay goal, assisted by Clinton Atkinson and Bryce Gervais. Knowles, named the BCHL Player of the Week, leads the SilverBacks with 8-12-20 in a dozen postseason games.
Salmon Arm head coach Tim Kehler knows his team will have to step up to put Vernon away in this series, adding Monday’s humbling loss should serve as a wake-up call.
“We were outplayed in every category. We just lacked the urgency to beat a championship-calibre team,” he said.
The score remained 2-1 until Michael Zalewksi scored for Vernon at 15:15 of the second, burying a slick back-door pass from Darren Nowick.
“That was a great shift by all three of those guys. Darren and John (Knisley) kept hunting pucks down,” said Ferner.
Salmon Arm had little response in the third, mustering just four shots to Vernon’s 13. McGillis and Dylan Walchuk, both scoring five-hole on Moore (30 saves) from the slot, completed the Vernon attack before 1,673 fans
Kirby Halcrow rebounded from a forgettable performance in Game 2 with a 16-save showing in Game 3.
The 6-foot-2 Grande Prairie product allowed three goals on seven shots Saturday night as the SilverBacks raced out to a 5-0 first-period lead. Blake Voth didn’t fare much better as he gave up three goals on 10 shots in relief.
“It’s over. We can’t change that and we don’t point fingers here. We just need to be better as a group,” said Ferner.
Meanwhile, the Surrey Eagles’ third-period comeback fell short as they bowed 3-2 to the Powell River Kings in Game 3 of the Coastal final Monday night at South Surrey Arena.
Outshot 28-13 and down 3-0 after two periods, the Eagles fired 26 shots on Michael Garteig in the final frame, getting goals from Steve Koshey and Richard Vanderhoek to pull within one.
The Kings, who held a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 Tuesday night in Surrey, opened the scoring on Chad Niddery’s powerplay goal midway through the first period. They added to their lead early in the second with another man-advantage marker by Jon Jutzi. Bond Hawryluk pocketed the winner before 1,354 fans.
SNAKE BITES: Forward Colton Sparrow and Mowat have missed the first three games of the Interior final due to injury. Patenaude went down in Game 2 with a lower-body injury.