I was at today's Vipers-Smoke Eaters game as Vernon defeated Trail 4-3 in front of 1,979 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Vernon: Reilly Herbst
Trail: Mateo Paler-Chow
1st Period: The Vipers with a good opening shift, setup Matt Kowalski who walked in just fired high and over the goal missing on a quality chance from the circle. On the following play, the visiting Smoke Eaters jumped on an early power play, thirty seven seconds into the period. Logan Cash would be given four minutes for spearing. Early into the double minor, the Snakes sprung Ben Helgeson in for the breakaway, former Powell River Kings netminder Mateo Paler-Chow come up with a large save in close, keeping this game scoreless. Shortly after Connor Sleeth would be stopped on an odd man rush on a very good Vernon PK. Trail went a lengthy time with only one shot on goal. The Smoke Eaters struggled to generate much on the double minor until late. With the PP winding down, Owen Ozar got behind Vernon's defence, would be stopped in close before Michael Colella buried the rebound, giving Trail a 1-0 lead at 4:20 with only seventeen seconds remaining in the double minor. Ozar drew the lone assist. After a getting two chances shorthanded and playing very well on the PK, this was a tough goal to give up towards the end of the double minor. About three minutes later, Ben Helgeson got in close couldn't hit what looked to be an open net. Shortly after on a delayed penalty, the Snakes kept the play alive, while Trail would took a second penalty as the play continued. Hunter Donohoe's point shot would be stopped, before Connor Sleeth's buried the rebound that squeaked through the pads of Mateo Paler-Chow, barely crossing the goal line, tied the game 1-1 at 8:53 Donohoe & Kowalski picked up the helpers. The original penalty would be scratched due to the goal, but Trail's second penalty stood as the Vipers would get there first look with the man advantage. Early into the power play, a dump in shot from well inside the neutral zone, took a large bounce in front of Reilly Herbst as the Viper netminder had to be alert was forced into making a difficult save, while shorthanded. Former Vancouver Giants forward Dawson Holt with a quick shot from the circle, forced Mateo Paler-Chow into making a big pad save towards the end of the PP. The Smokies would kill off the minor. Minutes later, Dawson Holt from the right circle ripped a shot that forced Mateo Paler Chow into making a blocker save. Shortly after Vernon tried setting up Ben Helgeson who couldn't connect on the pass, going hard to the front of the blue paint. Shortly after the Vipers with pressure, Dawson Holt setup Viper forward/captain Connor Marritt in the slot, gave Vernon a 2-1 lead at 15:16 Holt with the lone assist. The Smoke Eaters with a big push back shift after the goal. Connor Sweeney was able to walk through the Viper defence, would be stopped in close on a big save from Reilly Herbst. The Snakes with a quick transition game, fired the puck up ice, allowing leading scorer Matt Kowalski to go between his legs but be denied in close on a large save from Mateo Paler-Chow. Chow had to be alert and was forced to make a second stop off Kowalski. Connor Marritt on a three on two setup Jackson Caller who joined the play, giving Vernon a 3-1 lead at 16:42 Marritt picked up the assist. While the Vipers were celebrating, Trevor Isaksson gave a Viper a push, that started a minor scrum along the end wall. Some pushing and shoving, as two Smoke Eaters come rushing in, to join the scrum were held back by officials. Isaksson should have been given a penalty on the play, some how managed to get away with nothing as the Vipers complained to the officials. Eleven seconds later, the Vipers got back into the offensive zone, Brett Fudger got the puck back to, Keigo Hachisuka who's shot from the point beat Mateo Paler-Chow through traffic, giving Vernon a commanding 4-1 lead at 16:53 as Kal Tire Place went into a frenzy. Fudger and Ryan Shostak with the assists. This was the end of the afternoon for Smoke Eaters starting goaltender, Mateo Paler-Chow. Paler-Chow gave up four goals on eleven Vernon shots. Logan Terness come off the bench in relief. The Snakes sagged a bit after that goal, allowing Trail to quickly respond with a big push back shift and get within two goals. Max Kryski setup Jaden Senkoe, cutting Vernon's lead to 4-2 at 17:27 Kryski & Braden Costello collected the helpers. A letdown shift by the Vipers. It was 4-2 Vernon after 20 minutes of play. This was one of the Snakes best periods in months and maybe the entire season. Vernon played with a lot of jump/energy, were skating, were forced to kill off an early double minor, had some opportunities shorthanded, gave up a PP goal late in the double minor. The Vipers generated and created a lot of chances through out the opening frame, were the better of the two teams. I really liked the Vipers game and thought they played hard, fast and looked very good the first twenty minutes. A few bad shifts, one giving up a goal following scoring a goal, but other wise played very well. The Smoke Eaters struggled with the early man advantage, managed to score late on the power play, were outskated and out chanced through out the 1st period. There's usually not much of an atmosphere inside Kal Tire Place on most nights, unless a goal is scored or something big happens, but the building was buzzing all period with a great atmosphere inside. Vernon outshot Trail 12-8.
2nd Period: Off the opening faceoff, Owen Ozar with wheels, setup Matt Osadick driving to the goal, couldn't solve Vernon Vipers starting goaltender Reilly Herbst on a big save at the top of the blue paint. Three minutes into the middle frame, Connor Sleeth and Cameron MacDonald on a two on one. Sleeth kept and shot would be denied by Logan Terness who was forced to squeeze the pads, closing up the five hole. Three minutes later, Vernon would jump on the man advantage. I cant remember who it was, but a shot from the circle hit the outside of the post catching Logan Terness off guard. The Smokies killed off the minor. Less then four minutes later Trail would jump on the PP. The Vipers with a big PK managed to kill off the penalty. Just as the penalty expired, Diarmad DiMunro spotted leading scorer Kent Johnson all alone at the side of the net. Johnson with an easy goal, cut Vernon's lead to 4-3 at 13:43 DiMunro with the lone helper. This goal seemed to give Trail some life and changed the momentum of the 2nd period. Vernon had some good jump and was playing well, but now the Smokies turned the tables. With about a minute and a half remaining, Ryan Shostak couldn't bury his chance after being alone in front, would be stopped at the top of the crease, on a large save from Logan Terness. Inside the final minute with the clock winding down, Matt Osadick got by his defender, drove hard towards the goal, tried beating a sprawling Reilly Herbst low along the ice. Herbst with a large save with thirteen seconds left in the 2nd period. Two good chances late at both ends of the rink. It was 4-3 Vernon after 40 minutes of play. I thought Vernon had a bit of an edge in play early, continued there strong play from the opening frame. The Vipers had some chances and looks but couldn't capitalize. After killing off a penalty, the Snakes left Kent Johnson alone at the side of the goal on missed coverage, allowed Johnson to score and get Trail to within a goal. This play/goal seemed to give Trail some life and changed the momentum of the hockey game. The Smoke Eaters got there game going and took it too the Vipers on several shifts, as the Smokies were the better of the two teams for most of the remainder of the period. Trail carried a lot of the play in the second half, but didn't generate or create a lot of quality chances. The Vipers bent but didn't break and escape still with the lead. Vernon outshot Trail 11-8.
3rd Period: The Smokies with two very good chances early into the final frame, couldn't solve Reilly Herbst. Herbst with two large saves early, let out two big rebounds. About five minutes in, Jackson Caller's rocket from the point forced Logan Terness into making a big stop, while Matt Kowalski with a quick release just missed the far corner. On the following play/shift Trail would get an early power play. The Smoke Eaters didn't generate much as Vernon killed off the minor. Just as the penalty expired, Vernon product Powell Connor's rocket from the blueline beat Reilly Herbst but not the crossbar as Trail come within inches of tying the contest. Minutes later former West Kelowna Warriors forward Max Bulawka had Logan Terness down and out, didn't shoot or couldn't get off a shot from the top of the blue paint, was tripped up going around the net, sending the Snakes to the PP. The Vipers struggled with the man advantage as Trail killed off the minor. Just as Philippe Lapointe stepped out of the box, he went right back in, sending Vernon back to the power play. Jason McKee and the Snakes called a timeout. The Vipers had a few looks but non better then Jackson Caller's shot from the point that forced Logan Terness into making a large save towards the end of the penalty. The Smokies killed off the minor. On the following play/shift Owen Ozar with speed would be rubbed out along the side wall, sent Trail to a late power play. The Smoke Eaters had some good looks, before calling a timeout with forty seven seconds remaining in the man advantage. Towards the end of the PP Philippe Lapointe with a heavy shot from the circle, would be stopped by Reilly Herbst making a large pad save, keeping this a one goal game. With time winding down, the Smokies would get Logan Terness to the bench for the extra attacker with about 1:08 remaining. Trail pushed for the equalizer before Logan Cash hit the open cage from well out, giving Vernon a 5-3 lead at 19:17 Connor Marritt picked up the helper. Vernon would hold on for the 5-3 victory. I thought both teams had some good looks and opportunities. I thought Trail pushed hard in the second half, had the edge in play had the Vipers bend but not break. Both goaltenders made some big stops. Both teams went 0-2 with the PP. A hard fought period from both hockey clubs. Vernon outshot Trail 10-8.
Top Player's: (Vernon)
Jackson Caller (1 goal) I thought he played well at both ends of the rink. I really liked his offensive side of the game. The veteran Western Hockey League d-man was getting pucks to the net, with traffic in front.
Matt Kowalski (1 assist) Played well, was creating/generating plays. I didn't exactly see what happened, but I saw Kowalski drop to his knees and go face first into the side boards. Kowalski went to the dressing room but must have been ok, returned to the game. I'm very surprised this kid doesn't have a scholarship. Very skilled, seems to pull off some kind of highlight reel move/or goal game after game.
Ben Helgeson I thought played very well, generated and created some looks/opportunities through out the afternoon.
Connor Marritt (1 goal & 2 assists) I was talking with a friend/season ticket holder not too long ago and we both agreed and wondered what has Connor Marritt done for the Vipers lately? Well I have sure noticed a difference in his game and play the past week or two. He has really improved/stepped up his play. Played well this afternoon with three points in Vernon's win.
Connor Sleeth (1 goal) When the Vipers acquired this young man over the summer, Sleeth was brought in to bring in veteran leadership, experience and offence. Viper fans, myself included were very disappointed in what we saw at the start of the season and through out the season. But I have to say I have noticed a much different Connor Sleeth. This kid has improved and been improving and playing much better hockey since about late November/into December. I have really noticed a difference in his game in 2020. He may not be scoring a ton of goals or racking up a ton of points but his overall game has improved and he's slowly starting to chip away now and again with some points. I thought played well today in the win. Was skating, created/and generated some looks/chances.
Dawson Holt (1 assist) Has really played well since returning to the Vipers lineup Tuesday. Has six points in his last three games. Had some very good chances today. I have said this before and will say it again, Holt brings a lot and adds a lot to the Snakes lineup.
Reilly Herbst (22 saves) I don't know what happened to Herbst but this kid hasn't been himself oh about the past month or two. This kid was almost light's out when he first landed in Vernon in early October but has struggled as of late. Seems to have lost his confidence and allowing some soft goals in on almost a nightly basis. I have also noticed he's having troubles controlling his rebounds. He let out some fairly big rebounds this afternoon, but was forced to make some large saves today.
Game Thought's: (Vernon)
Who was this Vernon Vipers team we saw play this afternoon? The Vipers with one of if not there best opening period in a very long time, if not the entire season. A wild 1st period with both teams combining for six goals and four goals scored in less then three minutes apart. I thought the Vipers let there game get away from them after Kent Johnson was left alone at the side of the goal, Trail seemed to gain some life and changed the momentum of the hockey game and carried the play for the remainder of the 2nd period. I thought Vernon bent a little at times in the 3rd but didn't break. The Snakes come close to blowing a 4-1 lead, but you also have to look at who they are playing. Trail is a very good hockey team and very dangerous, no matter what the score is. Give the Vipers credit, they allowed the Smokies to claw there way back, but managed to hang on for the win and a huge two points. When it was 4-2 I was thinking to myself, the Vipers are going to need the next goal, or they could be in trouble. Well they didn't get the next goal but managed to hang on anyways. The Snakes got some big saves from Reilly Herbst through out the afternoon, played well in front of him. Vernon limited Trail to twenty five shots and only eight in the final twenty minutes. I have noticed a big change in the Vipers defensive play the past two weeks. The Snakes still turnover the puck in there own end, but not as often and as careless as before. I have noticed the Vipers have been keeping teams to twenty five or less shots a game in some games lately. The Vipers passing is still very poor and has been poor all season. This is the first game in a while, where the Vipers played with a lead and hung on for the win. Lately Vernon has been falling behind and trailing by two or three goals and having to rally from behind. I have said before I haven't seen a lot of improvement with this team since the start of the season, but for the first time this season I have noticed some improvement over the past six games. After losing back to back games to West Kelowna in late January, I think the Vipers have looked and played much better and improved the last six games, other then the 7-1 loss in Penticton. I was very pleased with the effort and overall play in the win over Prince George, the loss vs Nanaimo and again today. If this team can now continue to get better and improve and play more consistent, anything can happen come playoffs. I was impressed with the atmosphere in the building this afternoon, lots of energy in the crowd. The Vipers schedule doesn't get any easier, with a big game in Wenatchee Friday. Vernon has five games remaining are in a dog fight for 3rd, 4th and 5th place with Salmon Arm and Wenatchee. If the playoffs started today, Vernon would face Wenatchee. How big is next weekends game in Wenatchee? Heck all the games from here on in are big. Former Vipers Head Coach/GM Mark Ferner, along with former Vipers forward Bryce Kakoske (2008-2011) and former Vipers goaltender Danny Todosychuk (2011-2015) were in attendance this afternoon. The Vipers have won three of there last five games are 5-5 in there last ten. With the win Vernon improves to 28-22-2-1 move into 4th place in the Interior division standings tied in points with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, are one point ahead of 5th place Wenatchee. Even though the Vipers are tied in points with Salmon Arm, would Vernon get 3rd place due to more wins? Before today's game the Vipers brought longtime fan and season ticket holder Gord down to the dressing room to meet the players and have some pictures taken. Gord has cancer and is in his 80s. Gord is a good friend and regular viewer of the blog, I know was super excited to meet the team, he cheers for. A big thank you to the Vernon Vipers for your kindness.
Top Player's: (Trail)
Trevor Isaksson Played a tough physical in your face style of game. Played with an edge was in the face of the hometown Vipers all afternoon. A big d-man that's hard to beat one on one.
Owen Ozar (1 assist) This kid isn't the biggest kid but very quick. One of if not Trail's most dangerous forward today. This kid has some wheels and gave Vernon defenders trouble almost every shift. Was very hard to contain and defend against. Created/and generated some good looks/chances.
Matt Osadick I thought played a strong game up front for the Smokies. Was involved in the play, went hard to the net.
Philippe Lapointe The son of former NHLer Martin Lapointe, played well, had a good game in the loss.
Powell Connor Played well on Trails blueline.
Mateo Paler-Chow (11 saves) Started in goal for Trail this afternoon, before being yanked in the 1st period after giving up four goals on eleven Vernon shots. Other then maybe the Vipers opening goal, I don't think you could blame the former Powell River Kings netminder on his performance. Actually kept his team in the game early while the Smokies were on the PP. Paler-Chow was forced to make two big stops shorthanded on an early PP.
Logan Terness (17 saves) Replaced Mateo Paler-Chow in the opening frame, stopped all seventeen Vernon shots the rest of the way, gave his team a chance to try and come from behind for a second straight game. Down three goals at one point, Terness made some key saves at different times in the hockey game, which allowed Trail to claw back and get within a goal.
Game Thought's: (Trail)
The Smoke Eaters jumped on an early four minute power play, to start the game but struggled with the man advantage early. Trail gave up at least two or three shorthanded opportunities, had to rely on there goaltender to bail them out. The Smoke Eaters opened the scoring, on the double minor but then fell apart, giving up the next four goals. Trail was down 4-1 in the first seventeen minutes, was forced to try and come from behind for a second straight game. I don't think Trail played there best game, were forced to play from behind. The Smokies didn't quit and slowly clawed there way back, to get to within a goal, couldn't tie the game. Trail didn't any puck luck or have the bounces go there way. The Smoke Eaters had some looks/opportunities, had there chances to tie the game. This team is built for the playoffs. Trail has some size, is quick, can move the puck, has a very good transition game, has a ton of skill up front, a solid defence and good goaltending. When the Vipers went ahead 4-1 I knew this game wasn't over. Not only was it still the 1st period but the Smokies have the skill and team that can come from behind. Trail was down 4-2 in the 3rd to the visiting West Kelowna Warriors Friday, with ten minutes left, won 5-4. The Smoke Eaters have had Vernon's number this season and were leading the season series 4-1 prior to today's game. The Vipers snapped Trails eight game winning streak. Prior to this afternoon, the Smokies had one loss in there last fourteen games. Trail clinched 2nd place with the win over West Kelowna Friday, has five games remaining. With the loss Trail falls to 33-15-2-2-1 remain 2nd in the Interior division are twelve points ahead of Salmon Arm and Vernon and thirteen points back of division leading Penticton.
Ben Sanderson (Injured)
Trey Taylor (Injured)
Max Palaga (Injured-Out for the season)
Energy Player of the Game:
I have picked a victory song for the Vipers this season. After every Viper win, I will play Tarzan Boy by Baltimora
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Here are some photo's I took before and during today's Vipers-Smoke Eaters game.