I have had season tickets for 29 years and been following/watching Junior hockey in Vernon for over thirty five years. I have missed four Vipers home games since 2009 and missed five Vipers home games since the 1999-2000 season. For anyone who couldn't attend or watch tonight's Vipers game, here are my thought's and view's from tonight's game. You may agree or disagree but we all have our own opinion on the game. I try to be unbiased and give a fare game recap from both sides. Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog.
I was at tonight's Game 4 of the Interior division finals Vipers-Wild game as Vernon defeated Wenatchee 3-0 in front of 2,190 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Vernon: Aidan Porter
Wenatchee: Austin Park
1st Period: The Vipers with a strong start off the opening puck drop. Vernon carried the play early. About a minute in Josh Latta setup Vernon product Matt Kowalski on an odd man rush who fired wide of the goal, missing on a good opportunity. The Snakes with good puck possession and early zone time were quickly out to the lead in shots at 4-0. About four and a half minutes in AJ Hodges with some speed ripped a quick low shot along the ice from the circle forced Aidan Porter into making a quick left pad save on Wenatchee's first shot of the opening frame. About six or seven minutes in the Vipers on a quality chance in close, forced Austin Park to go for the poke check before Michael Young went hard to the net at the same time, caught Park in the head/mask with his knee. Park was down before the play was stopped. The Wild goaltender was attended too by the teams trainer, was ok and stayed in the hockey game. Just before the halfway mark Jack Judson's point shot would be redirected on it's way to the goal before Connor Marritt buried the rebound, giving Vernon a 1-0 lead at 8:10 Josh Latta & Jack Judson drew the assists. About two minutes later, around the midway mark the Snakes tried setting up Ben Sanderson going to the goal, couldn't quite get enough on his shot, forced Austin Park to make the stop from in close. On the play the Wild would head to the games first powerplay but shorthanded Connor Marritt tried winning the race for the puck, went in for the parcial breakaway would be denied by Austin Park who made a big save on the penalty kill. Wenatchee struggled with the man advantage didn't record a single shot. Late in the power play Connor Marritt would be sent off to the races on his second shorthanded breakaway, was stopped by Austin Park who couldn't control the rebound. Marritt tried banking the puck in off the back of Park's pads as the puck lied in the crease, before Vipers forward/captain Jagger Williamson come flying into Park, knocking Park into the net with a Wild defenceman as somehow the puck managed to stay out of the back of the goal on another quality chance shorthanded by the Snakes. The fans gave Connor Marritt and the Vipers penalty kill a large ovation as Vernon killed off the minor. Minutes later it looked like the visiting Wild were heading back to the PP before Murphy Stratton took an undisciplined minor, sending the two teams to four on four with no man advantage. This was a big blow to the Wild. With about two and a half minutes remaining Teddy Wooding with a glorious chance from the circle couldn't beat Austin Park. It was 1-0 Vernon after 20 minutes of play. I thought the Vernon Vipers were the better team. The Snakes carried the better of the play, had more puck possession, zone time and created/generated lots of good looks/opportunities. Wenatchee couldn't seem to find their offence and struggled offensively through out the first twenty minutes. The defending league champions gave up two shorthanded breakaways on the same power play, really had troubles getting any kind of zone time and puck possession. The Wild were forced to chasing Vernon and defending against the Vipers attack. Wenatchee went several minutes at different times in the period without a shot on goal. At one point the shots were 6-2 for Vernon and stayed that way for close to four or five minutes. Vernon outshot Wenatchee 9-5.
2nd Period: The Vipers with a strong forecheck off the opening faceoff, got the play in deep before Ben Sanderson had a few wacks at a loose puck at the side of the goal about two minutes into the middle frame. Shortly after the Wild would jump on an early man advantage. Wenatchee with a few good looks, didn't really have any quality chances until the dying seconds of the PP. Brandon Koch's shot from the blueline forced Vernon Vipers starting goaltender Aidan Porter into making a big stop on the PK. The Snakes with another solid penalty kill, killed off the minor. About two minutes later Vernon would get their first power play of the evening. Towards the end of the man advantage Michael Young's rocket from the backend was stopped by Austin Park before Connor Marritt buried the rebound, giving Vernon a 2-0 lead at 8:24 Young & Carver Watson picked up the helpers. With about six and a half minutes left in the 2nd period, Ben Sanderson with a quality chance in close couldn't solve Wenatchee Wild starting goaltender Austin Park. Back come the Wild the other way, Christophe Teller on a two on one would be stoned by Aidan Porter before Marko Reifenberger fired wide of the goal on the rebound, on a missed opportunity. A big break for the Snakes. After a goal mouth scramble in the Wild zone, Blake Bargar lost his cool, gave Jesse Lansdell a shot to the head before a scrum broke loose. Several players, pushing and shoving before Bargar was sent to the sin bin for checking to the head and an automatic ten minute misconduct, sending Vernon to a late power play. The Vipers struggled with the man advantage, gave up an odd man rush the other, didn't register a single shot on the PP as Wenatchee killed off the penalty. Just as the penalty expired, Teddy Wooding got in the clear beat Austin Park ringing his shot high and off the crossbar as the Vipers come within inches of taking a three goal lead. It was 2-0 Vernon after 40 minutes of play. I thought both teams were a little more evenly matched this period. Both teams didn't get a lot of pucks to the net. Lucas Sowder and Dylan Herzog both went down with looked like minor injuries. Both players would be ok and returned to the Wenatchee lineup. Both teams didn't create/generate a whole lot of opportunities in a defensive 2nd period. Vernon outshot Wenatchee 6-5.
3rd Period: Just like the 3rd period last night, the defending Interior and league champion Wild jumped on Vernon early. The Wild with an aggressive forecheck off the opening faceoff, had the Snakes hemmed in their own end for a good four to five minutes. The Vipers even though hemmed in their own end, played very well defensively, keeping Wenatchee to the outside, I don't think gave up a single shot with all that pressure. The Vipers managed to escape and slowly start taking over the edge in play. Just before the halfway mark Ben Sanderson with a quick low shot forced Austin Park into making a solid save with a shot from the hash marks. About a minute or so later Logan Cash on an odd man rush, with a shot from the circle forced Austin Park into making another large save. The Snakes would get the periods only PP around the midway mark. Vernon struggled with the man advantage as Wenatchee killed off the penalty. With about seven minutes remaining and the Wild having just a single shot on goal, Josh Arnold forced Aidan Porter into coming across the blue paint to make a huge left pad save while doing the splits, somehow managed to keep the puck out and control the rebound on a game saver. Instead of 2-1 the game is still 2-0 Vernon. Shortly after Connor Marritt on an odd man rush couldn't solve Austin Park as the Vipers were now carrying the better of the play. The Snakes had some good looks towards the end of the 3rd. With about three minutes remaining and Wenatchee trying to get the play in deep, couldn't get Austin Park to the bench for the extra attacker. Vernon's defence was solid down the stretch. The Wild would eventually get Austin Park to the bench for the extra attacker with fifty two seconds left. The Wild could only manage one real quality chance after a shot from the side wall bounced through the crease and out the other side before the Snakes were able to clear the zone. Former Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward Josh Latta with a lengthy shot hit the open cage, giving Vernon a 3-0 lead at 19:51 Latta's goal was unassisted. Fans started making their way to the exists before the final faceoff. The Vipers would come away with a solid defensive effort in a 3-0 victory taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, with Game 5 Friday in Wenatchee. The Wild pressed hard off the opening puck drop, had a ton of pressure and the Snakes back on their heels but Vernon played very well defensively early, keeping Wenatchee's top point getters to the outside and along the wall, escaped and from then on carried the better of the play. The Vipers dumped and chased for most of the remainder of the period, managed to create/generate some good looks & opportunities, forced Austin Park into making some big stops, keeping his hockey club in the contest and giving them a chance to tie the game. Even though the Wild carried the early edge in play, Wenatchee had all kinds of troubles offensively creating/generating chances, managed just a single shot on goal with all that pressure. The Snakes defense and defensive play was solid the entire period. Vernon played a very smart defensive game, but still managed to rag time off the clock with a strong forecheck of their own. The Vipers carried most of the play, had more puck possession. Both teams didn't get a lot of pucks to the net tonight or during the series so far. Vernon outshot Wenatchee 10-6.
Top Player's: (Vernon)
Michael Young (1 assist) How good has Michael Young been not only in the playoffs but the last two home games? Young had a heck of a game last night, had another solid game tonight. Young made several heads up defensive plays through out the game, managed to weave his way in and out of trouble, getting the puck out of his own end. Young played a very smart game at both ends of the rink.
The line of Matt Kowalski (1 goal), Josh Latta (1 goal & 1 assist) & Connor Marritt (1 goal) Was the Snakes best unit in the victory. This line was flying tonight, played with a ton of jump/energy were all over the rink. I thought Connor Marritt had one of his better games of the playoffs, was dangerous, hard to contain and defend against. Two shorthanded breakaways on the same Wenatchee PP. Matt Kowalski opened the scoring, had several looks/chances. Josh Latta really used his speed and energy to win the races/puck battles, worked/competed hard all night.
Ben Helgeson I thought played fairly well through out the contest.
Ben Sanderson Has been one of the Vipers more consistent forwards, had a strong night in Game 3 returned with another top performance in Game 4. Really used his forecheck to start plays, open the ice and make things happen. This kid has some wheels, gets the d-men turned around in a hurry. Had several looks/opportunities this evening. Was skating hard, competes and plays hard each and every shift.
Teddy Wooding Played well, also had some looks/chances. Rang a shot off the crossbar towards the end of the 2nd period.
Jack Judson (1 assist) I thought played very well on Vernon's backend.
Trey Taylor was another Viper defenceman that played very well defensively. How much has Taylor improved since the start of the season, looks like a veteran d-man out there.
Aidan Porter (16 saves-Shutout) Wasn't tested often but had to be sharp, was forced to make at least four or five large saves in the win. Porter playing with a ton of confidence these days, has 11 wins in the playoffs has started sixteen straight games. Porter records his first shutout of the playoffs and fifth shutout this season. Got a lot of help from his defence, stayed in his crease, didn't give up many if any second opportunities.
Game Thought's: (Vernon)
I thought the Snakes played a heck of a hockey game tonight. I thought the Vipers were the better of the two teams. Vernon had more puck possession, more zone time and created/generated more looks-opportunities. How big was the Viper defence tonight? Limiting Wenatchee to just sixteen shots. When the Wild did have pressure/zone time, the Viper defence did a tremendous job at keeping Wenatchee's top forwards along the wall/to the outside, took away a lot of their time and space, limiting their chances. I thought Vernon stayed disciplined, were dangerous on the penalty kill, didn't look so good with the man advantage. The Snakes going 1-3 on the PP. The Vipers played a very smart hockey game and stuck to the game plan. The Vipers have won five of their eight home playoff games, have seven wins in their last fourteen home games. When the series started I would have never guessed the Vipers would be up 3-1 in the series with a chance to take out the defending champs in five games. I have said this many times since late January, The Vipers were one of the hottest teams after the Christmas break and playing their best hockey of the season since January. This isn't the same team I saw playing from September until the end of December. For a team that didn't bring in a lot of high end recruits this season, had troubles scoring goals in the first four months of the season, is now one of the final three teams remaining in the playoffs. The Snakes are now just one win away from clinching their seventeenth Interior division Championship and their first since 2014. Former Vernon Vipers forward/captain David Robinson (2006-07 & 2009-2011) was at tonight's game along with former Vernon Lakers forward/Vernon Lakers/Vipers assistant coach, head coach and gm Troy Mick. Rumor going around Kal Tire Place before tonight's game was Vipers defenceman Landon Fuller has been suspended three games for his hit on Brian Adams in Game 3.
Top Player's: (Wenatchee)
Christophe Teller Isnt the biggest kid but quick on his feet. I thought played well in the loss tonight.
Dylan Herzog I thought was one of if not Wenatchee's better players. Was involved in the play, fighting for the puck along the wall, competed and worked hard all night.
AJ Hodges Played well through out Game 4.
Austin Park (22 saves) Unlike last night Park made the big saves when needed tonight, giving his team a chance for the win or a chance to tie the hockey game. Park played very well between the pipes, made several key saves in each of the three periods. Was the busier of the two netminders.
Game Thought's: (Wenatchee)
What has happened to the defending league champions? The Wenatchee Wild have scored just seven goals in the games first four games of this series, aren't looking like the same Wenatchee team I saw play in Vernon during the regular season. The Vipers have been the better of the two teams in the two games in Vernon and I'm surprised I haven't seen more push back from the Wild. Don't get me wrong, the Wild have a very good hockey club and played well at times in Games 3 & 4 but I just haven't seen them take over a period or look as strong as they did during the regular season. Are the Wild banged up? Maybe playing with some injuries we don't know about? Graham Turnbull interviewed Bliss Littler during one of the games in Wenatchee and the Wild head coach said the Wild/Capitals series was the most physical games/series he has ever been a part of in all of his years involved in hockey. After watching the last two games in Vernon, Brian Adams was hit/injured in Game 3 and never returned to the lineup. I cant remember but at least two other Wild players left the game last night before returning to the bench and again tonight. Lucas Sowder and Dylan Herzog both looked to be injured/in some discomfort both went to the Wild dressing room but returned to the bench. Are they Wild still recovering from that physical series vs Cowichan in the second round? I also noticed the Vipers have been the more physical team in this series and Wenatchee hasn't shown much push back in the physical department. Maybe this is why I haven't seen the same Wenatchee team I saw play here during the regular season? Where are the Wild's top offensive players? During the regular season Matt Gosiewski lead the Wild in points with 51 while Murphy Stratton was second with 46, Lucas Sowder with 45, Chad Sasaki with 42 and Matt Dorsey with 38. In this series Matt Gosiewski has 1 goal and 3 assists, Murphy Stratton has 1 assist, Lucas Sowder has 2 assists, Chad Sasaki has 1 assist and Matt Dorsey is pointless. Are Wild hurt/banged up or struggling offensively against a very good defensive Vipers team? Wenatchee was never really in this game, they never really had control of the game at any one point. Sure they had an early attack to start the 3rd but managed just one shot and were kept to the outside/along the wall. The Wild struggled offensively on the power play and through out the game. With just five shots in each of the first two periods, only managed six shots on goal in the 3rd. Your not going to win many hockey games this way. Wenatchee had troubles getting any traction going, had troubles getting any real sustained pressure, pucks to the net and creating/generating opportunities. Yes the Wild had some good looks/quality chances but not a lot. I just don't see that jump/energy in the Wenatchee lineup like I did in last year's playoff matchup vs the Snakes. I thought the Wild have had trouble with Vernon's speed, forecheck and defence in the first two games. The Wild will return home for Game 5 Friday night in a must win situation and their season on the line. Wenatchee has lost back to back games for the first time in these playoffs, fall two games below 500 on the road in the playoffs.
Brian Adams (Injured)
Energy Player of the Game:
1st Star: Aidan Porter (16 saves-Shutout)
2nd Star: Matt Kowalski (1 goal)
3rd Star: Connor Marritt (1 goal)