They are the hottest team in the B.C. Hockey League at the most important part of the season.
The Vernon Vipers, while playing fourth-liners on their No. 1 line due to injuries and suspension, extended their winning streak to five games Saturday night by shading the Penticton Vees 4-3 before 2,100 fans at Kal Tire Place.
It was the Vipers’ final home game of the regular season. They play the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight and meet the Merritt Centennials Saturday to finish their schedule.
Just who the Snakes (30-16-4-6) will face in the opening playoff round remains to be determined. The Vees and West Kelowna Warriors share first place with two games remaining. The Warriors play a home and home series with the last-place Smokies, while the Vees face the SilverBacks in a similar series.
The Cents need one point to knock Salmon Arm out of the post-season. Merritt hosts the Gorillas tonight.
Vernon, who will finish third and play the second-place team in round 1, got goals from defencemen Ryan Renz, 81 seconds in, and Josh Bryan, and another from winger Brendan Persely (first star with 1+1) to go up 3-0 midway through the first period.
Renz was assessed a double minor high sticking after drawing blood on Shane McColgan late in the first period and the Vees responded with Brad McClure and McColgan recording powerplays snipes 71 seconds apart early in the second.
Said Renz: “They popped in two there in the second when I was in the box and we could have let them get all the momentum, getting back within a goal, but we shut them down and put ourselves in a good position to win.”
TJ Dumonceaux, who enjoyed a high-energy weekend getting first-line minutes, made it 4-2 at 10:40 of the second. He banged in a rebound from in tight with flu-stricken Michael McNicholas and Bryan drawing assists.
The Vees (34-16-2-4) pressed hard in the third and pulled within a goal when Cody DePourcq connected 5:38 into the third. The Vipers, who ran with 10 forwards, hung on and got some stellar netminding from Danny Todosychuk the rest of the way.
Renz, Viper captain, is high on what makes the Vipers roll these days.
“I think just the will to win. That’s what we’ve seen lately. Obviously, there’s skill, there’s speed, there’s size. When we can overcome adversity with guys being out of the lineup and still put together wins like this against the other top teams in our division, it shows something about the team.”
The Vees outshot the Vipers 36-26 with Olivier Mantha taking the loss. Penticton won the season series 5-2.
Said Vees’ captain Brad McClure, who’s having a fabulous season with 39 goals and 77 points: “It was a back and forth, playoff-type game with a lot of hitting and emotion. You can expect both teams to be pretty feisty in the playoffs. We had lots of chances and they had lots of chances, and they happened to get one more than we did.”
The 20-year-old Stratford, Ont. product knows the Vees’ recent water-pistol attack won’t last long.
“We’re a pretty defensive team and that’s what we focus on. We let the offence take care of itself and sometimes pucks and bounces just go your ways, and that’s just part of hockey.”
With Demico Hannoun on injured reserve and Liam Coughlin serving his final game of a suspension, the Vipers used Dumonceaux and Logan Mick as wings with first-line centre Mason Blacklock, who just returned from IR.
“A lot of guys are stepping up,” said Dumonceaux, who was flying at both ends of the rink. “There are bigger roles for guys that aren’t usually in that position like myself. I’m not usually a first-line guy and I’m trying to do what I can to help the boys win.”
The 19-year-old Kelowna roadrunner is stoked about the playoffs.
“We’re ready for whoever we’re gonna get. Pen or Westside, they’re both good teams. We’re coming in pretty hot which is really good for us and we’re looking forward to playoffs for sure, first time in three years.”
Vernon is 7-1-1-1 in their last 10 games.