Christmas has come early for the Vernon Vipers, who will unveil their latest gift today when they face the Chilliwack Chiefs in a 2 p.m. matinee at Wesbild Centre.
Dylan Walchuk, who led Vernon in scoring in the 2010-11 B.C. Hockey League campaign, will rejoin the Snakes after starting the season with the NCAA Division 1Northern Michigan Wildcats.
Vipers’ head coach/GM Jason Williamson said the 19-year-old McBride product flew in from Michigan Saturday and is expected to dress against the Chiefs. Walchuk was unavailable for comment before the Morning Star’s Saturday press time.
“He’s decided he wants to come back and give it another go,” said Williamson, following Vernon’s 10-1 shellacking of the Trail Smoke Eaters Friday night at Wesbild.
“For whatever reason it wasn’t working out there (at NMU). We tried to push him to stay, but he decided that wasn’t the place for him. When a player of that calibre decides he wants to come back you welcome him with open arms. It’s a deadline deal where we don’t have to give much up.”
Walchuk was one a handful of Northern Michigan players originally named in some alleged NMU campus bicycle thefts that occurred in September, according to a report in the Mining Journal of Marquette, Mich. Four Northern Michigan players pleaded no contest, but charges against Walchuk and two other players have since been dropped.
With 56 points in 55 games last season, Walchuk will add another weapon to a Vipers team that is 2-5-1-2 in its last 10 games. Vernon’s 15-12-1-2 record has them tied for fourth in the Interior Conference. Chilliwack (18-9-0-2) is five points ahead, while the Smokies are last at 5-22-1-3.
“He’ll add some scoring and make us a better hockey team, and a deeper hockey team,” said Williamson. “We’re losing one-goal hockey games and when you can add a player that might be the difference…it can turn the tide.”
Friday night’s season-high 10-goal outburst was a welcome relief to the Snakes, who started to show signs of their swagger from earlier in the season. It also marked the return of forwards Colton Sparrow and Pete McMullen to the lineup. Captain Pat McGillis (ankle) and d-man Luke Juha (wrist) are still on injured reserve.
Leading Vernon’s assault with two goals and an assist each were Mike Zalewski and Jedd Soleway, first and third star receptively. Also getting in on the offence were Ben Gamache (1+3), John Knisley (1+2, third star), Adam Tambellini, KIJHL call-up Eric Chore (North Okanagan Knights) and Brett Corkey, with his first of the season.
“It was kind of like (my first goal) last year,” said Corkey, who hammered a hard, high laser past Trail’s James D’Andrea from the top of the circle. “Zee (Zalewski) made a great pass and set it up for me and I had all the time in the world to walk in. I kind of closed my eyes and just shot it again.
“It’s a good Christmas present to get right before the break. Dad (Ray) was harping me about getting the first one before I meet all the family. When they ask me about how many goals I’ve got, I didn’t want to say ‘a big goose egg.’”
Corkey, a Calgary native, called Friday night “a step in the right direction,” but said the Vipers won’t be satisfied unless they can make it a four-point weekend before they break for the holidays.
“They’re (Chiefs) a hard-working team and we’ve just got to match their work ethic and play our game, get all five guys skating back and give them nothing,” he said.
Nowick’s goal, his team-leading 21st, should stand as a candidate for goal of the year. With Vernon up 3-1 midway through the second period, the Long Beach, Cali. native undressed two defenders in tight and used his reach and agility to tuck the puck far side behind D’Andrea (33 saves) at 14:34.
“I don’t remember too much, but I saw an open spot and I took it,” said Nowick, who finished the night with a Gordie Howe hat trick when he and Trail’s Tim Coish dropped the gloves during a melee in front of the benches in the third period.
Added Williamson: “From the drop of the puck you could tell they had a lot of energy. Their goalie made some great stops and one little breakdown gives them an odd-man rush and ends up in our net, but our guys stuck to the game-plan and were relentless on the forecheck.”
After Trail scored five minutes into the first period, Vernon netminder Danny Todosychuk settled in to record 20 saves for his fourth win. Despite being given the night off, No. 1 keeper Kirby Halcrow was tossed by referee Grant Tyson in the third period after an altercation with a Trail player in front of the Vernon bench. The incident happened after the Smokies’ Brandon Egli jumped Nowick with four minutes to play. Zalewski and Egli also earned misconducts.
Trail head coach Bill Birks was thrown out earlier in the period.
“It wasn’t anything close to a good effort. We got outworked, got a little frustrated and that was the ball game,” said Trail assistant coach Bob Dever. “Kids get frustrated when you’re not doing what you want to be doing in terms of the wins and losses.”
The BCHL’s shortened 21-man roster, combined with a slew of injuries, have made it difficult for Trail to field a competitive team, added Dever.
“I look at the low numbers. I look at not being able to have a full, regular practice. We’ve been practising with 11 or 12 guys for a month. It’s tough to work on things.”