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Vipers ride five-goal explosion
An explosive second period helped the Vernon Vipers tranquilize the host Victoria Grizzlies 5-4 in Game 1 of the semifinal, round-robin B.C. Hockey League playoffs at the Q Centre Friday night.
The Vipers had nearly a week off since their Game 7 thriller in Penticton and they struggled in the early going in front of 1,500 fans. Vernon hosts the Coquitlam Express tonight at 5 p.m.
“We seemed to be on our heels at the start. We didn’t play that great,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson.
D-man Jacob Kearley scored for the Grizz from Jaden Schmeisser and Leo Fitzgerald at 7:49 of the first period, on the powerplay (Ryan Renz was off for hooking).
Perhaps the Vipers were shaking off the ferry ride as they were outshot 13-3 in the opening frame.
Things went south for the Grizzlies in the second period as the Vipers went off for five goals in 12 minutes.
Brett Mulcahy scored 1:06 in, for his 13th goal of the playoffs, from Michael Statchuk and Colton Sparrow.
Throughout this postseason, the Vipers have been carried by secondary scoring. Friday night saw a lot of guys get off the schneid.
“We have had a lot of key contributors this postseason so far. It’s tough to sustain that so it is great to see our big guys get on the scoresheet and get some confidence,” said Renz, the Viper captain.
Logan Mick gave the Snakes the lead with his first of the playoffs from d-man Josh Bryan.
Dexter Dancs made it 3-0 on a powerplay six minutes later. Dancs was second on the team with 26 goals in the regular season. He was held goal-less in 10 playoff games. Bryan and Liam Coughlin drew assists. Bryan has a dozen helpers in the playoffs.
“It is something that has been in the back of my mind for sure. It’s not like I am playing terrible, they just haven’t gone in for me,” said Dancs.
Bryan and Liam Coughlin set up Dancs.
“It felt great, like the monkey is off my back. I think there going to start go in now,” said Dancs.
Demico Hannoun scored 22 seconds later from T.J. Dumonceaux for his second of the playoff dance. That was the fourth and final goal Grizzlie goalie Alec Dillon would allow. Dillon made eight saves and was replaced by Nic Renyard.
Mason Blacklock’s first of the playoffs, at 13:07, from Hannoun and Dylan Chanter was the eventual winner.
The game seemed destined for blow-outsville with a 5-1 Viper lead after 40 minutes,
“The third period resembled much of the first. We sat back on our heels and we got into penalty trouble. Smitty was great coming up huge for us late in the game,” said Williamson.
The Vipers surrendered two powerplay goals at the start of the third with Jesse Schwartz and Rory McGuire scoring for the Grizzlies.
A 5-1 wipeout turned into a game all of a sudden. Kearley pulled Victoria within one at 12:12.
“I think we were complacent with a 5-1 lead heading into the third. That just can’t happen,” said Dancs.
The Grizzlies peppered the Vipers 21-9 in the third, nearly matching the Vipers’ shot total for the entire game. Smith made some huge saves.
“He is a mature player that we know is going to battle each night for us,” said Williamson, of Smith.
Victoria, who finished second overall with 37 wins, outshot the Vipers (tied for sixth with 30 wins) 43-23.
“I thought our boys played a good game excerpt for a bizarre 15 minutes when the puck went in five times,” said Grizzlie head coach Craig Didmon. “That doesn’t happen very often here. They (Vipers) scored on five of 11 shots, they played a good transition game and they are hard to break out against.
“That third period was good for our confidence. We didn’t get the two points, but there were lots of positives. We know we can play with Vernon.”
The Express ended up tied for eighth overall in the 16-team BCHL at 27-26-2-3. They registered the most goals for (226), but gave up the same number of snipes. They added 20-year-old stay-at-home d-man JD Cotroneo at the trading deadline and the 21-year-old Minnesota product helped settle the defence.
“They gave up a lot of goals during the regular season, but their goaltending’s been really good in the playoffs,” said Williamson. “He’s (Gordie Defiel) got Royal Bank Cup experience, they have a lot of firepower up front and they’ve been playing really well. They’ve shut teams down lately and got timely goals so it’s up to us to stick to our game-plan.”
Defiel, 21, was with the Minnesota Wilderness last year. He went the distance as the Wilderness lost 5-4 in the semifinal overtime to eventual RBC champion Brooks Bandits last year in Summerside, PEI.
The Express are led by New Jersey’s Ryan Rosenthal, 20, a power right winger who walked away from the University of Vermont Catamounts after playing just six games as a freshman last season. The Express captain, who is headed to Northeastern next year, has nine playoff goals.
Minnesota brothers Bo (27 regular-season goals) and Canon Pieper (33G) also bring explosive offence to the Express. They played for the USHL Indiana Ice last year.