Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Three's Company For The Vipers:

This is in todays Morning Star Newspaper:

Three's company for the Vipers

Jan. 31, 2018

Black Press Sports

Just call the B.C. Hockey League's Interior Division Crazy Town.

The fourth-place Trail Smoke Eaters stopped the league-leading Vernon Vipers 4-1, while the last place Merritt Centennials went to Wenatchee and pocketed three points in a weekend series with the defending Cahmpion Wild.

Who knows what's in store tonight when the Vipers entertain the Cents at Kal Tire Place.

Vernon and the Penticton Vees actually share the Interior penthouse with the Vees holding three games in hand. Wenatchee is three points back.

It's a dogfight now," said Viper captain Jagger Williamson, who went through concussion protocol after suffering two cuts to his head in a 4-2 victory over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Saturday night.

"All the points matter and it's going to go down to the last game."

Williamson, who missed the Sunday matinee with Trail, welcomes the competition.

"It would be nice if we were in front of them (Vees and Wild), but it's pretty cool to have a three-team race like this."

Alberni Valley winger Tyler Vanuden, who has 16 penalty minutes this season, was assessed a boarding major with 2:40 to play after he smacked Williamson near the Viper bench. Williamson, who had slowly skated to centre before dumping the puck down ice, got up in a hurry, but needed a towel to his bleeding head. A scrum ensued and Jesse Lansdell of the Vipers and Christian Simeone were given double roughing minors.

"I didn't see that coming, "said Williamson. "I had a headache and I've done all the concussion testing. I'm going to take a couple of days off."

The Vipers will likely be without speedster Keyvan Mokhtari tonight as well. He is also nursing a head injury suffered in Friday's win over West Kelowna.

The Smokies were rested and more than ready Sunday afternoon as they stopped the Vipers 4-1 before 1,500 fans at Cominco Arena. Trail had Saturday night off, while the Vipers iced the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 4-2 before hopping a bus for Trail early Sunday morning.

It was a special win for Vernon’s Caton family as former Viper Blaine Caton registered what proved to be the winning goal, a controversial snipe, with 0.7 seconds left in the first period.

Blaine’s father, Murray Caton, backstopped the Vernon Lakers to two Centennial Cups back in the early 19902, and is currently a scout for the team. while Blaine suited up in 48 games with the Snakes during the 2014-15 season, pocketing four goals and eight points before being released.

“Personally, it’s awesome winning against your former team, every night you can,” said Caton. “For our team, that’s a team we haven’t beat over there, so trying to match up with them in the playoffs, it’s just good to show the guys in the room that we can beat a team like that.”

Caton’s timely 13th tally came as he gathered a rebound off a scramble in front and lifted the puck over Vernon goalie Anthony Yamnitsky for a 2-1 Smoke Eaters lead.

“I actually didn’t even know how much time was left on the clock,” said Caton. “I saw Jer (Lucchini) pick up the puck in the neutral zone and start skating … I went to the front of the net and he threw it there, it popped out and lucky enough it was there on my stick.” The victory over the Vipers was the Smokies first in five tries this year and was as significant as victories get with 11 games to play in the regular season.

“It was a huge mental obstacle,” said Smoke Eaters coach/GM Cam Keith. “We needed confidence that we can beat Vernon. For whatever reason it carried over from last year to this year, and for us in our room, we made a big statement that if we play our game we can beat any team at any time, so it was huge.”

Defenceman Connor Welsh gave Trail a 1-0 lead at 5:14 of the first period when he corralled a loose puck at the blue line and wired a shot over the glove of Yamnitsky for his ninth goal of the season. However, Vernon tied it when a missed drop pass to Smokies d-man Seth Barton turned into a 2-on-1 for the Vipers.

Jesse Lansdell broke down the right wing and feathered a pass over to Josh Prokop whose one-timer beat a sprawling Adam Marcoux at 11:53 of the first. Niko Karamanis drew the secondary assist on Prokop’s 21st. Penalty trouble subdued a Smoke Eaters attack in the second period, as Trail focused on killing five penalties including a 5-on-3 Vernon advantage midway through the period.

“I think the 5-on-3 was a real big one,” said Keith. “I mean your best penalty killer is your goaltender, and Adam Marcoux has been absolutely tremendous. He makes big saves at big times, and calms the game down.”

That Smokies’ kill proved to be a turning point as Marcoux made his best save of the night off Prokop. With the Smokies shorthanded, the Vernon forward took a backdoor pass at the far post and was looking at an empty net, but the Smokies goalie stretched out and stopped the puck with his right pad, not once but twice, to preserve the one-goal lead, as Vernon outshot the Smoke Eaters 23-17 through two periods.

“It’s been a while since we faced a top team and come out with two points, so it’s crucial, especially against a team like Vernon, who we’re most likely going to see in the playoffs at some time,” said Marcoux. “I knew there was a guy backdoor, I think it was (Jordan) Sandhu that was in front, his eyes weren’t on the net at all, they were on the guy backdoor. So I can anticipate it and I’m lucky he didn’t put it in on the rebound.”

The Smokies played solid defensive hockey in the third, and while Vernon pressed early, Marcoux came up big when he had to. Smokies forward Spencer McLean had been battling Vernon defenceman Shane Kelly all night, and finally got the better of the 6-foot-5 d-man when he jumped on an Andre Ghantous rebound and chipped it past the Vipers goalie for a 3-1 lead with just over five minutes to play.

“Kelly’s got some size and some strength to him,” said Keith. “But you’ve got to give Spencer credit, he stood in there, took some shots and didn’t back down and then got rewarded for it in finding the rebound.”

Vernon pulled their goalie in the final 1:45, but the Smokies weathered an initial storm until Trail’s Minnesota product, Ryan Murphy, iced it with an empty-net goal with 23 seconds remaining for the 4-1 victory.

“It’s playoff hockey,” added Keith. “They’re in the same battle that we are right now, and everyone is clawing for positioning in the standings. As you saw, it’s a 2-1 game, there wasn’t a lot of chances for and against, and goals are scored on a rebound or scramble in front, you just have to find ways to get there and we did tonight. We had a ton of traffic, and a lot of heart from the kids today.”

Vernon outshot Trail 31-28 and was 0-for-7 on the power play, while Trail went 0-for-3. Marcoux earned the game’s first star, Caton second star, and McLean third star.

The Vipers share the Interior Division penthouse with the Penticton Vees, 6-3 losers to the host Victoria Grizzlies Sunday. The Smokies are fourth, three points behind the Wenatchee Wild.

The Vipers host the Merritt Centennials Wednesday night. Merritt gained three points in a weekend series at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee, winning 3-2 and losing 2-1 in double overtime.

The Vipers counted three goals in a span of 3:46 early in the second period to take a 4-2 lead in front of 2,009 fans Saturday night at Kal Tire Place. It was 1-1 after 20 minutes.

Cole Poliziani registered his ninth of the season 10:09 after the national anthem, on a power play. The Vipers actually carried most of the play shorthanded before Poliziani converted from roadrunner Julian Benner with 11 seconds left in ex-Bulldog Jordan Sandhu’s hooking minor. Alberni Valley held a 19-10 shot advantage in the opening period.

Vernon equalied four minutes later when rookie Connor Marritt beat Bulldog backup net detective Brock Lefebvre from the right hashmarks. Niko Karamanis and Coleton Bilodeau drew helpers on Marritt’s sixth.

Benner pushed the Dawgs in front on a nifty wraparound just 81 seconds into the middle stanza. It was Benner’s second snipe of the season in his 11th game. Former Viper d-man Mitch Oliver and Jackson Doucet pocketed assists.

Vernon jumpstarted their three-goal volcano with blueliner Mitch Andres wiring a slapper top cheddar from the point about 45 seconds after he struck the post. Brett Stapley, who played in the CJHL Prospects Game earlier in the week in Mississauga, Ont., earned the assist as the Vipers applied extended pressure.

Jimmy Lambert recorded the winner with his 17th, burying a wrister top shelf from the high slot. D-man Chris Jandric carried the puck down the right sidewall, skated around the Alberni Valley net, took a heavy hit from Oliver and dished off to Lambert. The Saskatoon streak curled like a comma and straddled the blueline before unleashing the shot.

Newbie Derek Brown, acquired at the trading deadline from the Alberta League Bonnyville Pontiacs, added insurance from ‘gimme range’ after a nifty behind-the-back pass by Sandhu, whose forward progress was halted by Oliver. Brown’s shot trickled through Lefebvre’s pads for his fifth as a Viper.
Brown bagged a hat trick as Vernon grounded the West Kelowna Warriors 24 hours earlier.

The Bulldogs pulled Lefebvre in favour of John Hawthorne after Brown’s tally.

The Vipers had one goal disallowed in the second period. Josh Latta snuck in all alone behind Lefebvre and tapped the puck in after a feed by Cameron Trott. After some brief discussion by the four officials, goaltender interference was the ruling in favour of the Dawgs.

Vernon (31-12-1-4) spent most of the third period in the Alberni Valley zone, but the Dawgs showed some late pushback with Keaton Mastrodonato striking the post just before getting stoned by Vernon goalie Ty Taylor on a rebound of a Oliver point offering. Hawthorne delivered a handful of stellar saves.

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