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Vipers make point versus pesky Cents
Eleven games left. Little room for error.
That’s the situation for the Vernon Vipers as they chase the Salmon Arm SilverBacks and Merritt Centennials for the fourth and final playoff spot in the B.C. Hockey League Interior Division.
With the exception of a home-and-home with the Langley Rivermen, the Vipers face teams in their division down the stretch. Vernon tied the host Cents 4-4 in double overtime Saturday and are six points ahead of Merritt, who have two games in hand.
The fourth-place SilverBacks, 5-4 winners over the Surrey Eagles Saturday night, are three points behind Vernon with one game in hand. The Vipers are 3-5-1-1 in their last 10 games.
“You can fall asleep one weekend and you can end in fifth place,” said Viper associate coach Kris Mallette. “I just finished watching video trying to figure out what’s wrong with our team right now. Panic isn’t there. We haven’t played great since Christmas and we can’t put our finger on it.
“Every team obviously goes through it and our season has been a roller coaster. We know that we can do it. We’re a very veteran team; we’re not a bunch of rookies, and it (blame) has to be shared by everybody.”
The Vipers have sorely missed all-star forward Mason Blacklock with knee problems. Blacklock, traded from the Surrey Eagles, played his heart out with the Vipers’ playoff chances over and done last year, and got off to a Crosby-like start in September being getting hurt. He sets the intensity bar for the Snakes, and resumed skating at Monday’s practice.
D-man Riley Guenther, with his fifth just 98 seconds in, TJ Dumonceau, with his fourth, Logan Mick, with his fifth and Dexter Dancs, with the equalizer, his 20th, handled the Vipers’ offence at the pinball machine known as Nicola Valley Arena.
“Merritt’s an interesting arena to get into, to say the least,” said Mallette. “Everything happens in a hurry and I think we competed well and were resilient.”
The usual suspects, including Colton Sparrow and Brendan Persley (two assists) and the entire Viper back end, killed off five powerplays, including a late high-sticking major to forward Demico Hannoun (2A) before 800 fans.
Dumonceau, who along with Mick, has been earning extra minutes with splendid play the last two weeks, tried to ignite the Vipers by landing several rights and lefts in a scrap with Rhett Willcox midway through the first period. The Centennials, however, responded with Scott Patterson’s fourth goal of the year, 26 seconds later, tying it at 1-1.
Jeff Wight (18th) and Payton Schaefer (6th) scored for Merritt in between a snipe by Dumonceaux, in the first 10 minutes of the second period. Mick leveled things at 3-3 with nine minutes left in the session.
Daniel Nauchbar (sixth) gave Merritt the lead midway through the third with Dancs answering two minutes later.
“We did some really good things tonight, but we let the game get away from us at different times,” said Cents’ head coach Luke Pierce. “It was nice to score some goals finally, but to let the game slip away like that was tough to swallow. I think that we outplayed them for the most part, and had the better quality chances, but they jumped on the errors that we made.”
The Cents are 4-4-2 in their last 10 tilts and in full playoff mode.
“I think everybody’s a bit stressed out and feeling the pressure,” added Pierce. “We have to find ways to cope with it. With the situation we’re in, we have to win games. There’s no two ways about it. We have to play every game like it’s a championship game, and everything is on the line for us. I thought that our top guys were very good today. That’s why we scored four goals.”
The Cents held a 43-37 shot margin with Devin Kero for Merritt and Danny Todosychuk of Vernon going the distance in net.
SNAKE BITES: Viper leading scorer Michael McNicholas missed Saturday’s game after being injured Friday night...The Vipers have four home games left, starting Friday with the Trail Smoke Eaters in town... West Kelowna F Jason Cotton led the Warriors to an undefeated road trip and piled up seven points to earn BCHL Player of the Week. The Plano, Texas native had the double-overtime winner as part of a two-point night in a 5-4 win over Victoria, he then had one goal in a victory in Alberni Valley and wrapped up with a four-point game that included two assists in the final minute in a 7-7 draw in Chilliwack...Vernon product Michael Roberts netted his eighth of the year for Salmon Arm...Viper grad Cole Ikkala, a senior with Union Dutchmen in New York, is among 18 nominees for the NCAA’s Hockey Humanitaran Award...Vernon’s Curtis Lazar earned one assist Tuesday afternoon as the Edmonton Oil Kings brushed back the Brandon Wheat Kings 4-2 in Western League play before 11,339 fans at Rexall Place. There were 7,000 area school kids in attendance for the 5th Annual CN Hockey Hooky game...Brett Pollack of Sherwood Park scored twice for the Oil Kings, who improved to 35-13-0-1, tops in the Eastern Conference.
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