Sparrow snipes winner as Vernon Vipers sink Vees
One team was fighting for first overall in the B.C. Hockey League. The other was playing for plain ol’ pride.
The latter squad persevered as the Vernon Vipers outlasted the Penticton Vees for a thrilling 3-2 win Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
Third-year forward Colton Sparrow (8th goal) netted the winner with 27 seconds to go in regulation, converting a gorgeous 2-on-1 saucer feed from Brendan Persley in front of 2,000 fans.
“Feels pretty good beating a rival like that in a barn burner of a game,” said Sparrow, a Vernon native.
Sparrow wasn’t exactly shocked to see both teams come out hard, even though the result had little bearing on the Interior Division standings. The 20-25-1-9 Vipers will finish last, while the first-place Vees (35-15-0-5) are guaranteed home-ice advantage for at least two playoff rounds.
“Didn’t surprise me at all. That’s the way we’ve been playing the last four, five games and we’re just keeping on rolling.”
Vernon had hopes of finishing the year on a four-game win streak as they ended the regular season against the Merritt Centennials (31-17-3-4) Saturday night at Wesbild Centre.
Rookie forward Mitch McAllister continued his hot streak Friday, drawing an assist on Sparrow’s winner and recording Vernon’s other two snipes in the first period. He has five points and first-star recognition in his last two games.
“Sometimes it takes guys a while to get used to Junior hockey and how we have to play,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson of McAllister’s ever-improving play. “One of the reasons we brought him here is he plays with that jam and I’m proud of his effort.”
McAllister (5th and 6th) opened the scoring after some terrific play by linemates Persley and Michael Roberts. Persley knocked down a Penticton clearing attempt and passed cross-ice to Roberts, who skillfully took the puck off his skate and fed McAllister for a top-shelf snipe.
For his second goal, McAllister crashed the Penticton zone on a late line change and caught the Vees’ defence standing still as he pounced on a puck as it squirted out from the corner. Netminder Chad Katunar (25 saves) was also caught off guard, as he was beaten five-hole at 7:33.
Brad McClure (28th) snapped a quick shot through traffic to pull Penticton within one before the first intermission.
The Vees really started to press the tempo in the second frame, but Vernon keeper Austin Smith (34 saves) kept them at bay. He denied Michael Rebry from in close right off a faceoff, and earlier recorded two stellar saves of Brock Balson to preserve the Vipers’ lead.
“His last two games he’s been the difference,” said Williamson. “He’s got his swagger back and it’s good to see.
“It was a pretty big game for them (Penticton) and our guys are playing with a lot of pride and energy right now. Unfortunately for us it’s too little, too late, but there are a lot of bright spots with this organization moving forward.”
After a scoreless second period, John Siemer (24th) finally solved Smith with a second-effort goal from the side of the net.
Penticton centreman Jedd Soleway, a Vernon product and former Viper who was traded to the Vees earlier in the season, said the loss was a tough one to take as it might have cost them first overall.
“We had a few good chances and could have won that game,” said the rugger power forward. “We just had a few mistakes and lapses mentally that cost us.
“We have short goals right now. We want to come into playoffs with a bang and swagger. We wanted to win that game badly.”
Soleway seems to have made a flawless transition to the ultra-talented Vees. He has 28 points (14-14) in 22 games.
“It’s been a really comfortable change,” he said. “I feel good in Penticton and I feel good every time I’m on the ice.
The up-tempo game featured just one penalty, a high sticking minor to Vernon d-man Ryan Renz.