I was at today's Vipers-Centennials game as Vernon defeated Merritt 5-1 in front of 2,082 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Vernon: Reilly Herbst
Merritt: Tanner Marshall
1st Period: Inside the opening minute of play, Vernon product Matt Kowalski carried the play behind the net, before spotting Ryan Shostak in front, giving Vernon an early 1-0 lead at 0:53 Kowalski drew the lone assist. About five and a half minutes in, the Vipers sprung Connor Sleeth in for the breakaway. Sleeth would be denied by former Trail Smoke Eaters netminder Tanner Marshall. The Snakes would get the games first power play on the play. The Vipers struggled with the man advantage early, didn't generate much until the dying seconds of the PP. Tanner Marshall was sharp on a goal mouth scramble as Merritt killed off the minor. Shortly after Rylan Van Unen on a two on one, setup Daniel Tkac who fired high and over the goal, on a missed opportunity. Just before the midway mark, Landon Fuller turned over the puck, allowing Payton Matsui in for the breakaway, would be stopped by Reilly Herbst. Shortly after Payton Matsui and Ben Ward on an odd man rush. Ward would keep and shoot but be stopped by Reilly Herbst. Shortly after Matt Kowalski spotted Ryan Shostak for his second goal of the afternoon, on a second opportunity in front, gave Vernon a 2-0 lead at 13:42 Kowalski and Jackson Caller picked up the helpers. Off the following shift, the Vipers got the play back into the offensive zone, Christian Felton's point shot would be redirected in front off Logan Cash who forced Tanner Marshall into making a tough safe with traffic in front. With about three and a half minutes left in the opening frame, Christian Buono stepped into one that forced Reilly Herbst into making a large pad save towards the end of the period. On the following play, Max Bulawka and Landon Fuller with quality chances couldn't solve Tanner Marshall. In the dying seconds, Vernon sprung Connor Sleeth for his second breakaway of the day, as Tanner Marshall would make a big stop at the buzzer, keeping this a two goal game. It was 2-0 Vernon after 20 minutes of play. I thought the Snakes were the better team. Vernon carried a lot of the play, had several looks and a ton of chances through out the first twenty minutes. Tanner Marshall was very good between the pipes, keeping the Centennials in the hockey game. Merritt was outplayed for a lot of the first half, slowly come on in the second half, had a few good shifts. The Cents had two odd man rushes but couldn't capitalize. Vernon outshot Merritt 16-9.
2nd Period: Inside the opening minutes, Logan Cash got in behind the Merritt defence would be stopped in close by Merritt Centennials starting goaltender Tanner Marshall. The Snakes were buzzing early, had some good looks. Shortly after Reilly Herbst was forced to make a large save off Daniel Tkac from in close. Off the following faceoff, Tkac setup Brophy Dunne who's wrist shot from the point, somehow beat Reilly Herbst, cutting Vernon's lead to 2-1 at 2:43 Tkac collected the assist. I don't know if the puck hit a body or stick in front but Herbst was either fooled on the shot or didn't see the puck, either way it was now a one goal game, early into the 2nd period. Less then two minutes later, Jack Glen on an odd man rush, decided to keep and shoot, beat Tanner Marshall glove hand, giving Vernon a 3-1 lead at 4:37 Colby Feist & Trey Taylor with the assists. Minutes later the Centennials would get there first PP of the afternoon. Vernon Vipers starting goaltender Reilly Herbst was forced into making two large saves off Ben Ward and Payton Matsui as the Cents had some looks/opportunities on the man advantage. Herbst was solid as Vernon killed off the minor. Shortly after Dawson Holt on an odd man rush, fired high and over the goal, on a missed opportunity. Just past the halfway mark, Merritt would get there second power play of the period. Reilly Herbst had to be sharp, made several saves, keeping this a two goal game, as the Vipers killed off the penalty. Shortly after Dawson Holt got in behind the Cents defence, went up and over the top corner, on another missed opportunity. Towards the end of the middle frame, the Centennials had the hometown Snakes hemmed in there own end. Merritt with several good looks, couldn't solve Reilly Herbst. With about three minutes remaining, after some three way passing, the Cents spotted Chase Cooke going to the net, looked to have an open cage, couldn't connect on the pass, on a missed opportunity. It was 3-1 Vernon after 40 minutes of play. I thought the Vipers had some jump and were buzzing early, created a few chances but it was the Centennials who had the better of the play. Merritt was using there speed, were getting pucks to the net, created/generated all kinds of chances, couldn't solve Reilly Herbst. Herbst was very sharp between the pipes, keeping Vernon in the contest. The Centennials didn't get much puck luck, couldn't get the bounces to go there way. Merritt outshot Vernon 16-9.
3rd Period: Inside the opening minute, forward/captain Connor Marritt would be stopped in front on a bit of a goal mouth scramble, before former West Kelowna Warriors forward Max Bulawka buried the rebound in front as the Centennials couldn't clear the puck from the front of the net, giving Vernon a 4-1 lead at 0:51 Marritt and Ryan Shostak picked up the assists. This was just a hard working shift from this line, that didn't give up on the loose puck and the three were rewarded. Thirty seconds later the Snakes would get an early man advantage. The Vipers with several looks/chances couldn't solve Tanner Marshall before former Merritt Centennials defenceman Jackson Caller stepped into one, that found the back of the net, giving Vernon a commanding 5-1 lead at 2:59 Dawson Holt & Connor Marritt drew assists. Vernon would get a flurry of opportunities early and often couldn't find the back of the net after Tanner Marshall was forced to make several saves. The Merritt Centennials looked to go on the power play, that didn't last long after being called for too many men, sending both teams to four on four. I didn't see what happened but Chase Cooke got up was bleeding, needed some attention from the trainer, stormed off to the dressing room, seemed to be ok, returned to the bench minutes later. Just over ten minutes into the 3rd Payton Matsui's shot from the high slot, forced Reilly Herbst into making a big save. This was Merritt's first shot of the period. Just past the halfway mark, Vernon would get a shortened PP, had some looks and chances but couldn't solve Tanner Marshall. Trey Taylor took a shot off the skate/foot went down in some discomfort, was a little slow getting up, went to the Vipers dressing room, but seemed to be ok and returned to the bench. With about four and a half minutes left, the Snakes would get fourth power play of the final frame. The Vipers with several good looks/opportunities couldn't capitalize with the man advantage. In the dying seconds Jack Glen took a crosscheck from Tanner Marshall, while the teams had some words at the buzzer, nothing happened as Vernon come away with the 5-1 victory. Two early back to back goals, basically put this game away minutes into the period. Vernon dominated the final twenty minutes as they were all over the Centennials. The Snakes had a ton of chances through out the 3rd could have easily got to ten or more goals if it wasn't for Tanner Marshall. The Vipers had complete control of the period, played most of the 3rd in the offensive zone, had a ton of puck possession, were generating chances often. Merritt down four goals, playing there third game in three days, looked like they were out of gas. The Cents had very little puck possession, very little zone time, saw a lot of action in there own end, were dominated most of the period. Fans started making there way to the exits halfway through the period as the crowd thinned out as the period went on. Vernon outshot Merritt 20-3.
Top Player's: (Vernon)
Jackson Caller (1 goal & 1 assist) Played well at both ends of the rink. The Snakes d-man was involved in the play, had a strong afternoon with two points.
The line of Matt Kowalski (2 assists), Logan Cash & Ryan Shostak (2 goals & 1 assist) Played very well together. Kowalski played well in the win over West Kelowna Saturday, has been the Vipers best forward this season. This kid really sees and reads the ice well, creates/generates a lot of Vernon's offence. Good to see a kid like Ryan Shostak score twice but also chip in with three points, get some confidence heading into the playoffs. Logan Cash had some looks Saturday I thought played more of a complete game this afternoon. Didn't record any points but played hard, competed and was good at both ends of the rink.
The line of Colby Feist (1 assist), Jack Glen (1 goal) & Brett Fudger Played very well. I thought this line not only played well but stepped up there play today. All three players were involved in the play, created some space and opportunities but also battled hard and competed. Played with a lot of energy.
Connor Marritt (2 assists) I think has really stepped up his play the past few weeks, and playing with a lot more consistency and confidence. It wasn't all that long ago I had a good chat with a good friend/season ticket holder, and we both thought what was up with the Viper captain. We both thought he was almost invisible out there most nights, and not doing much. Great to see this kid, playing hard, chipping in now and again with some points and stepping up his play towards the end of the regular season.
Connor Sleeth With two first period breakaways, is another kid who has improved and playing much better the past few months. Not only has Sleeth been playing better, seems to be playing with more confidence, chipping in now and again with the odd goal/assist, is also creating plays on the ice, getting some opportunities and making things happen. Maybe this is your guy to step up in the playoffs.
Dawson Holt (1 assist) One of if not the hottest forward as of late. Since returning to the lineup February 4th in Merritt, the former Vancouver Giants forward has been playing very well. Had a heck of a weekend. Was physical tonight, played with a bit of an edge, had some good looks/opportunities, played hard all afternoon. I really like this kid, when he's going and playing well, so are the Vipers.
Reilly Herbst (27 saves) Good to see Herbst bounce back with a solid performance today with the win over Merritt. Since joining the team in early October, Herbst was almost lights out and our MVP, kept the Snakes in most games on most nights. Vernon has been goal challenged all season, so most night's our goaltenders have to be very good to give us a chance to win. Herbst has struggled lately and hasn't been the same goaltender from the start of the season. He hasn't looked the same since about the middle of December and on some night's it looks like he's lost his confidence. He was locked in today and very sharp between the pipes, especially in that middle frame.
Game Thought's: (Vernon)
Other then the 2nd period I really like Vernon's game and thought they were the better of the two teams and fully deserved the win. I thought the Vipers outplayed the Cents for a lot of that opening frame and could have easily had more then two goals. Merritt scores early into the middle frame, to get within a goal, but a big goal less then two minutes later, puts the Vipers back up by two. Reilly Herbst was the difference in the second period, kept the Snakes in the contest, making some big stops or the Centennials could have easily taken a lead into the final twenty minutes. The Vipers with two bog goals early into the 3rd, basically put the game away. Vernon could have easily had another four or five goals if not more in the final frame, if it wasn't for Tanner Marshall. The Cents netminder was solid between the pipes, keeping the score respectable. The Vipers created and generated a ton of opportunities today, were moving the puck well, looked good in the offensive zone. Vernon turned the puck over on a few occasions, were lucky Reilly Herbst bailed them out. The Snakes didn't give the Centennials a sniff in the 3rd, carried the play and ran down the clock with a pretty dominating period. Vernon was getting pucks to the net, were finishing there checks, played very well today. The Vipers did get lucky and catch some breaks on a few plays, especially in that middle frame. A bounce here or there in that 2nd period, and it may have been a different game, come the 3rd period. Give the Vipers some credit, as they are playing there third game in four days. I thought all four lines played well. Landon Fuller struggled this afternoon and has struggled the last two or three games. For the first time this season, I think this team has improved. It may not be drastic but I do think this team is playing better the past eight or nine games, minus one or two games. Sure they still are making some mistakes, but what team doesn't at this level. I have seen a difference in the play and overall team from the last two games in January until now. A great turnout this afternoon, with another good crowd. The Vipers crowds have been very good this season and very consistent. I heard a rumor Jo Jo Tanaka-Campbell is still in hospital and had to get his jaw wired shut, and will be out a minimum six weeks. If true, this will be a big loss for the Vipers, especially with the playoffs just around the corner. With 3rd and 4th place still on the line, today was a huge win, with only two games remaining in the regular season. The Vipers have won three of there last five and won six of there last ten games. With the win, Vernon improves to 30-23-2-1 remain 4th in the Interior division are two points ahead of 5th place Salmon Arm and one point back of 3rd place Wenatchee. The Wild have two games remaining, both in Penticton.
Top Player's: (Merritt)
Ben Ward Not the biggest kid but wasn't afraid to go to the net. Had some looks/chances in the loss this afternoon, played well for the Centennials.
Rylan Van Unen Was one of the more dangerous forwards for Merritt today. Created and generated some chances for the Cents.
Daniel Tkac Was another forward who played well, created/ & generated some opportunities.
Tanner Marshall (40 saves) Kept his team in the game for as long as he could. Marshall was forced to make several saves through out all three periods but none more then the final period. The Centennials netminder faced twenty shots in the 3rd, keeping the final score from becoming a blowout.
Game Thought's: (Merritt)
The visiting Centennials missed on two 1st period odd man rushes, could have used a goal on at least one of those opportunities, to try and get back in the game. Instead the Cents were down 2-0 after twenty minutes, managed to score an early goal into the 2nd period, but ended up giving up a goal less then two minutes later. Merritt responded and played very well in the 2nd period but couldn't solve Vernon's goaltender. Reilly Herbst made some big stops in that middle frame, keeping the Vipers in the contest. The Centennials needed to capitalize on some of there opportunities in the 2nd period, but couldn't. The Cents didn't get any puck luck or bounces go there way, or this may have been a different hockey game at the time. Playing there third game in three days and fourth game in seven days, I think Merritt emptied the tank in the 2nd period, ran out of gas come the 3rd. The Cents gave up two back to back early goals in the final frame, that basically put the game away and the Centennials couldn't recover. Merritt gave up way too many shots and opportunities, heavily relied on there goaltender. Tanner Marshall was the difference, was forced to make numerous saves through out the afternoon, just to keep the score respectable. The Cents playing with a short bench, have a much younger lineup and have nothing to play for other then pride as the Centennials are the lone team that wont be in the playoffs. I was very surprised to see a fair size group of Cents fans in the rink today. For a team at the bottom of the standings and out of the playoffs, good on Merritt for making the trip up the highway to come and cheer on there team. The Centennials went 0-6 vs the Vipers this season. The Centennials two game winning streak was snapped, have won three of there last five games, have three wins in there last twenty games. With the loss, Merritt falls to 13-39-1-3 remain 7th in the Interior division and last overall in the league standings.
Ben Sanderson (Injured)
Jo Jo Tanaka-Campbell (Injured)
Max Palaga (Injured-Out for the season)
Josh Van Unen
Energy Player of the Game:
Matt Kowalski (2 assists)
1st Star: Ryan Shostak (2 goals & 1 assist)
2nd Star: Jackson Caller (1 goal & 1 assist)
3rd Star: Connor Marritt (2 assists)
I have picked a victory song for the Vipers this season, after every win this year I will play Tarzan Boy by Baltimora
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Here are some photo's I took before and during today's Vipers-Centennials game.