Friday, February 26, 2016
Vipers Wanna Go Wild Tonight:
Vipers wanna go Wild tonight
Feb 26, 2016
Some thought Vernon Viper dynamo Odeen Tufto may not finish the game after taking a blow to the head from Matt Brown of the Surrey Eagles with 5:23 remaining in regulation Tuesday night.
The Minnesota product slowly removed himself from the boards in front of the Surrey bench and announced he was fine to keep playing in the B.C. Hockey League encounter before 1,592 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Tufto must have surely avoided any head trauma as he made a nifty move on a d-man and beat goalie Justin Laforest in tight for his team-high 24th goal of the season 53 seconds into three-on-three overtime as the Vipers held off the Eagles 3-2.
Liam Finlay and defenceman Mitch Oliver, who finished with three helpers, drew the assists.
“When I go out on OT, I’m always out there with Finns and we work pretty well together, “ said the 155-pound Tufto, a 19-year-old Minnesota product with a scholarship locked up with the Quinnipiac Bobcats near Hartford. “We love the four-on-four and three-on-three. It allows us to use our creativity and speed and we’ve done that play before in OT. I just cut to the middle and got a shot off and fortunately it went in.”
Laforest was all-planet for the last overall Eagles with 55 saves for first star. The Vipers registered 23 Grade A scoring chances. He stoned Tufto on a breakaway late in the four-on-four first overtime session after Oliver nailed Tufto with a gorgeous stretch pass. Laforest was pulled after allowing seven goals Wednesday night in Penticton as the Vees ambushed the Eagles 11-0.
Vernon moved ahead of the idle Merritt Centennials into sole possession of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Interior Division. The Vipers have 49 points with two games remaining: tonight at home versus the Wenatchee Wild and Saturday in Trail against the Smoke Eaters.
Trail shaded the visiting Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-2 Tuesday night with Vernon product Harlan Orr, who turned 21 Monday, supplying the winner midway through the third period, his 11th snipe of the year. The Smokies have 48 points and one game to play.
The Centennials have 47 points with remaining tilts at home against Wenatchee and the first overall Penticton Vees.
“This is big,” added Tufto. “We really have to win one more game and we’re in the playoffs so Friday and or Saturday are gonna be huge. Again, they’re gonna be the biggest games of the year.”
Wenatchee, an expansion team with five California products and four Canadians, are well balanced with 10 forwards netting 12 or more goals. Brendan Harris of Nevada leads the Wild with 14 goals and 55 points.
“They are very aggressive and good at moving the puck,” said Viper assistant coach Kevin Kraus. “We don’t want to get into a track meet with them so we will have to establish a forecheck early.”
Vernon lost 3-2 to the Wild at the opening weekend Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack and then edged Wenatchee 3-2 in overtime Nov. 14 in the Washington State city.
Starting goalie Chase Perry was chosen by the Detroit Red Wings in Round 5 of the 2014 entry draft.
“He’s nothing flashy, but he’s a big guy and a good first-shot goaltender,” said Kraus.
Winger Jimmy Lambert comes off injured reserve tonight to provide more offensive punch. The Saskatoon rookie has 14 goals in 47 games.
“It’d be nice to get two points against Wenatchee,” said Oliver. “We don’t want to leave it until the last game of the season, in Trail.”
Surrey, a seven-win team carrying just two 20-year-olds (one is Laforest), showed some marvellous moxy in the opening period with Tyler Andrews converting in close on a power play at 7:30. Donovan Ott and d-man Austin Anselmo earned the assists.
The Eagles enjoyed an early seven-minute man advantage after Viper d-man Latrell Charleson was called for an instigator minor and fighting major after throwing a couple of punches at towering Eagle blueliner Tyler Cooper along the sidewall near the penalty box.
Charleson, a former Eagle, stepped in to stand up for Ben Butcher, who went hard into the boards after a high hit by Cooper. Charleson broke his right hand in the scrap and is sidelined indefinitely.
Shortly after Andrews pocketed his ninth of the season, the Vipers enjoyed a two-on-one shorthanded chance with Jagger Williamson striking the left post.
The Eagles moved in front 2-0 six minutes into the second stanza when slick Jeffrey Stewart celebrated his 18th birthday by fooling Andrew Shortridge with a wrister from the ringette line. Ott and Kurt Black drew the assists.
“We knew they were desperate for a playoff spot so we just wanted to prove to our teammates next year that we can do it and try and kick them out of a playoff spot,” said Stewart, a Surrey native who expects most of the young Eagles back next year.
Stewart figures Laforest, who rang up a 30-win season with a 2.13 GAA for the Royal Bank Cup champion Portage Terriers of Manitoba last year, deserves an NCAA deal. Laforest was a back-up tender with the Carleton Place Canadians of Ontario at the 2014 RBC in Vernon.
“I’m surprised he’s not committed yet. He’s putting up 60 saves almost every night. We just gotta keep working on our defence and hopefully he can get a scholarship somewhere.”
Tufto was impressed with Laforest’s performance.
“He (Laforest) played good. I think the last time I saw that was Langley (Bo Didur shut out the Snakes Feb. 12 in Vernon) and we didn’t get any past Langley. Our first goal was a shot from the point and two guys in front of the net and a rebound that was smacked in so it had to be kind of gritty. It took a while, but we finally got him.”
Vernon captain Colton McCarthy banged in his 19th of the season with 3:33 left in the second period on Laforest’s doorstep. Oliver and Williamson picked up helpers on the powerplay tally which came with 29 seconds left in Gage Mackie’s hooking penalty.
Just a minute later, Finlay was assessed a tripping minor and Riley Brandt handled the puck for almost 25 seconds deep in the Surrey zone, dishing to McCarthy in front for a close call.
On the next face-off, Joe Sacco buried a rebound off a shot by Williamson for the shorthanded equalizer. Sacco has 10 snipes on the year.