On Faith Night Friday at Kal Tire Place, the Vernon Vipers believed in the power of their special teams.
Jimmy Lambert’s powerplay goal early in the third period stood up as the winner, and Ty Taylor made 22 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, as the Vipers blanked the Merritt Centennials 2-0 in B.C. Hockey League action before 2,041 fans.
The game was presented by North Okanagan churches.
Lambert’s 15th goal of the season came after Vernon killed off consecutive five-on-three Merritt powerplay chances which started with 1:19 left in the second period.
“Five-on-three is the most dangerous situation in the game, where chances to score are very high,” said Lambert. “Five-on-threes are tough to kill off but we’ve done pretty well at that this year. We stuck to our systems, and when you kill off a couple of penalties like that, it really gets your guys going, and then we were able to get the goal.”
Lambert, the game’s first star, one-timed a Brett Stapley pass and unleashed a rocket of a shot from the right face-off circle past Merritt goalie Jacob Berger at 3:50 of the final period, 44 seconds into a powerplay after Centennials defenceman Colten Gerlib was whistled for a high-sticking minor.
Stapley had nearly given Vernon the lead moments earlier with a shorthanded breakaway, only to be stopped by Berger. Defenceman Shane Kelly followed up the play and bowled over Berger, leading to a skirmish with Merritt forward Zach Zorn. Each player got four minutes in penalties with Kelly receiving an extra two and a game misconduct.
Jagger Williamson added the insurance into an empty net at 19:35 with Jesse Lansdell and Josh Prokop picking up assists.
Lansdell had earlier slid out to block a point shot which went over the glass. On the ensuing faceoff, with the puck along the far boards in Vernon territory, Prokop picked up the puck, spun around and delivered a pass to the tape of a streaking Lansdell, who drew the Centennials defenceman to him at the Merritt blue line, then saucered the puck to Williamson, who essentially escorted the puck into an open cage.
“We had a slow start in the first period but we stuck with things and in the second period, we played simple and chipped the pucks in, that’s when we’re at our best,” said Lambert. “We did the things Mark (head coach Ferner) wanted us to do and we came out successful tonight.”
The biggest cheer prior to Lambert’s goal came in the first period, when public address announcer Rob Abramenko announced Canada had won the World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game, 3-1 over Sweden.
See that game: Canada
Both goalies were at their best in the second period with their teams shorthanded.
Berger, who finished with 27 saves, stopped Cameron Trott and Niko Karamanis on back-to-back opportunities, then denied Jordan Sandhu in-close on a great feed from Stapley.
Ty Taylor, the second star, robbed Zorn with a blocker save and dove across the crease to stop Nic Wicks on the rebound.
Williamson was the Fortis Energy player of the game.
Vernon’s victory, coupled with the Wenatchee Wild’s 3-0 loss Friday in Salmon Arm against the Silverbacks, gives the Vipers a six-point cushion on the Wild atop the Interior Division and overall standings.
The Silverbacks moved to within two points of sixth-place Merritt.
Vernon took on the Prince George Spruce Kings – 2-1 double overtime losers Friday in Penticton – in the Celebrate the Civic Arena game Saturday. The sold-out contest was played at the Vernon Civic Arena, marking 80 years to the day the Civic opened
See more on that game: Spurce Kings clip Vipers on retro night
The arena is slated for demolition at some point this year.
In the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League Friday, Jaden Hay scored with 1:49 left in overtime to give the North Okanagan Knights a 3-2 win over the Kamloops Storm at the Nor-Val Sports Centre.
Jake Huculak and Carl Main had the other goal for the Knights, who are 10 points back of the Princeton Posse for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Okanagan Shuswap Division.