Surrey Eagles' netminder Andrew Hunt looks back to find the puck as Vernon Vipers' Alex Hagen (left) and Colton Sparrow attack the net in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night at South Surrey Arena.

Surrey Eagles' netminder Andrew Hunt looks back to find the puck as Vernon Vipers' Alex Hagen (left) and Colton Sparrow attack the net in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night at South Surrey Arena.

Vipers stumble to open Lower Mainland excursion

Vernon Vipers lose first two of three-game Coastal road swing.

Vernon Viper forward Darren Nowick wasn’t about to hit the panic button following his team’s second straight B.C. Hockey League loss, a 3-2 decision against the Surrey Eagles Friday night at South Surrey Arena.

Instead, the Long Beach, Calif. native, who joined the other Viper veterans in holding a team meeting after the game, put things in perspective.

“We went through this last year and look where we ended up,” said the 20-year-old sniper, referring the Vernon’s third straight appearance in a RBC Cup national Junior A final.

“We’re already close as a group, but we’ve had some guys take nights off, myself included. We need to be going for a full 60 every night. You just have to make sure you’re contributing.”

Combining Vernon’s 4-3 loss to the Chilliwack Chiefs (11-7-0-1) Thursday night at Prospera Centre, and a 4-1 win by the Merritt Centennials over the Chiefs Friday, the Vipers slipped to third place in the Interior Conference at 13-7. They have a game in hand over the red-hot Cents, who are 7-1-0-2 in their last 10 games and 11-5-1-4 overall.

Vernon closed a four-game road schedule against the Langley Rivermen (7-13) Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre. They host the first-place Penticton Vees (16-3-0-2) Wednesday night at Wesbild Centre.

After a scoreless first period Friday night, Vipers’ speedster Marcus Basara, with his sixth goal, buried a shot top corner off a rush started by Marc Hetnik on a man advantage at 8:55 of the second period. Colton Sparrow picked up the other assist in front of nearly 1,000 fans.

The Eagles came right back with a powerplay goal of their own at 13:22, with Charles Orzetti (6th) capping a play set up by Brandon Scholten and Devon Toews.

Surrey (12-5-0-3), now in a three-way tie for first in the Coastal Conference, took the lead just 18 seconds into the second period when Tyler Morley picked off a Viper breakout to go in alone for a shorthanded tally, his 14th goal of the season.

Less than three minutes later, the Eagles added to their lead when the puck took a strange bounce from behind the net, bounced off a body in front of Kirby Halcrow and into the net. Robert Lindores (7th) was credited for the goal.

With Halcrow (19 saves) pulled for the extra attacker, Nowick, collecting his team-leading 15th goal, beat Andrew Hunt (33 saves) with just over a minute to play.

“They know better,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “Having an effort like last night’s just isn’t good enough here. You have to execute. We just have to start that way from the beginning and we won’t have to ramp it up at the end.

“We’re a young hockey team and we’re going through a tough time right now. Hopefully that’ll make us better. Going through a bump like this isn’t always a bad thing.”

Vernon forward Aaron Hadley, taking on Linden Saip in a first-period tilt, and Nowick, dropping the gloves with Matt Cronin in the third frame, recorded their first BCHL fights.

The Vipers were also forced to play catch-up against the Chiefs as they trailed by two goals midway through the third period.

John Knisley, with his third of the season, pulled Vernon within a goal with three minutes to play, but Chilliwack netminder Mitch Gillam shut the door the rest of the way, finishing with 34 saves.

Despite facing just 25 shots, Williamson credited Halcrow for making some big saves.

“We didn’t give up a lot of chances, but we did give up some good chances,” he said.

Basara (5th) and Nowick (14th) rounded out Vernon’s offence in front of 1,700 fans.

Malcolm Gould, with a two goals and an assist, and David Bondra, the son of former NHL sniper Peter Bondra, with 1+2, led the Chilliwack attack.

SNAKE BITES: Vernon forward Mike Zalewski is riding a 10-point scoring streak, while Nowick has goals in three straight games…BCHL scoring leader Wade Murphy of the Victoria Grizzlies, with 14-28-42 in 23 games, has points in 20 consecutive outings.