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Road-weary Vipers derailed by Express
They rushed to get dressed after a ferry ramp malfunction Sunday morning. Some players downed Gatorade and flu medicines. Others tended to some bumps and bruises. Assistant coach Dave Robinson was too ill to stand behind the bench.
Despite their troubles, the Vernon Vipers manned up and took the Coquitlam Express to the final seconds, giving up an empty-netter in a 4-2 B.C. Hockey League matinee loss before 475 fans at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre.
The Snakes, who are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, clipped the Cowichan Valley Capitals 3-2 the night before in Duncan. Vernon hosts the Trail Smoke Eaters Friday night at Kal Tire Place and visits the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Saturday night.
“We played OK considering the circumstances,” said Viper head coach Jason Williamson. “We were up 2-1 after two periods and I was saying, ‘Let’s hold on.’ Then they get a powerplay goal (44 seconds into the third) and a point shot found its way through for the winner.”
Coquitlam (16-14-0-2) got powerplay snipes from Marc Biega and Ryan Rosenthal to hold off the Vipers (18-8-3-4). Ben Israel and Canon Piper, into an empty net with six seconds left, completed the Express attack.
Michael McNicholas and defenceman Jared Wilson replied for Vernon, who were outshot 28-19. Gordie Defiel took the win, while Austin Smith suffered the loss.
The Vipers are second in the Interior Division, one point back of the Penticton Vees, 7-1 winners over the injury-riddled Surrey Eagles Saturday night.
McNicholas, named BCHL Player of the Week, moved into third place in the league points derby with 17 goals and 44 points. Rosenthal became the league’s fourth 20-goal man. Dancs also had one assist and earned second star. He is tied for 11th in points at 14-24-38.
With forwards Mason Blacklock and Brendan Persley joining d-man Ryan Renz on injured reserve, the Vipers used Major Midget call-ups Linden Hora of Kelowna and Dante Hannoun of Delta on an energy line with Matty Saharchuk.
The 5-foot-6 Hannoun, whose older brother Demico, plays for the Vipers, is property of the WHL Victoria Royals after being taken 11th overall in the 2013 Bantam draft.
Viper d-man Jason Bird, traded by the Express last year, fought Israel in the second period after Israel nailed Chase McMurphy with a high hit.
In Duncan, the Vipers were outshot 29-22 but held an edge in puck possession with McNicholas (2) and Dancs supplying the goals before 850 fans at the Island Savings Centre.
The Vipers went up 3-0 early in the second period before Sam Curleigh and Jordan Topping countered for the Caps (12-21-0-1). Danny Todoyschuk earned the win, while Robin Gusse took the loss.
“We started well, going up 3-0,” said Williamson. “They played us physical and made it hard on us. They were very good. That’s a tough place to play, with the size of the rink and the atmosphere.”
Todoyschuk was seeing his first action in a few weeks.
“Danny made a few big saves early to get himself in the game. He was good,” said Williamson.
Hora and North Okanagan Knights’ F Blaine Caton saw a handful of shifts against the Caps, who added blueliners Valik Chickin and Matthew Berry-Lamontagna in trades last week.
The Caps lost big in a pair of deals when speedy forward Ambrose Firkus (West Kelowna Warriors) and d-man Clint Filbrandt (Penticton) refused to report.
The Vipers moved into 17th spot in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top-20 rankings, but they are hardly gloating over the stat. The CJHL doesn’t have universal rules on the allowed number of 20- and 17-year-olds.
“We don’t put much stock in it because there’s no way to base anything like strength of schedule,” said Williamson. “It’s nice, but we don’t think about it too much.”
West Kelowna grounded the SilverBacks 4-1 Sunday at the Shaw Centre with Vernon product Alex Gillies getting his 21st goal of the year for Salmon Arm.
Gillies pocketed three helpers as the host SilverBacks iced the Langley Rivermen 4-1 Saturday night. Salmon Arm and the Merritt Centennials are both six points back of Vernon.