The Quesnel Millionaires were snake-bitten Friday night, not by the visiting Vernon Vipers, but rather by themselves in a game that saw the Vipers leave town with a 4-3 win.
Compared to Thursday night’s 8-2 loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters, that captain Skyler Smutek called an embarrassment, the Mills played a more physical game, a more intense brand of hockey.
“Our energy level was great tonight, we competed like we’re supposed to,” Mills head coach Doug Hedley said.
“It was a lot better than last night.”
Unfortunately, the Mills played a great 57-minute game and that’s the problem.
“It’s the same lesson we’ve been trying to learn all season,” Mills captain Skyler Smutek said.
“You need to play a full 60 minutes.”
With the game tied at a goal apiece, the Mills came out flat to start the second period and Vernon took the opportunity to take the momentum in the game and eventually take the lead.
Kyle Murphy gave the Vipers a 2-1 lead five minutes into the second period on a disputed goal.
The goal judge did not turn the lamp on to signal a goal but referee Adam Griffiths called the goal that was the result of some weak backchecking by the Mills forwards.
Dane Muench made it a 3-1 for the Vipers two minutes later knocking in a rebound from close in.
The Mills closed the gap just before the 15 minute mark of the second frame with Malcolm Gould’s 13th goal of the season, with assists going to Derek Huisman and Michael Spring.
The Mills started the third period with a stronger effort, but instead of passing the puck to a winger a Mills defenceman tried to carry the puck out of his own zone but found himself cornered by the Vipers defence and he turned the puck over just inside the blueline.
A couple of passes later Zach McPhee found himself with a free shot on Mills netminder Bryton Udy and made no mistake roofing a shot stick-side to score what proved to the eventual winner.
“That’s the kind of team they are,” Smutek said.
“They kind of sit back and wait for you to make a mistake and then they capitalize on their chances.”
“We know better,” Hedley said.
“Just a couple of mistakes and the pucks in the net.”
The Mills got that one back on a goal by Spencer Graboski who converted a rebound off a Shawn Mueller shot.
Down 4-3 with five minutes to play the Mills had several opportunities to tie up the game, including a powerplay opportunity with three minutest to go, but couldn’t find the back of the net as the Vipers collapsed around their net.
The Mills did pull Udy for an extra attacker with just over a minute to play, but couldn’t generate any pressure in the offensive zone.
“We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
The game was marked by some chippy play including a fight between Mills rookie defenceman David Thompson of the Mills and Vipers captain David Robinson.
“I don’t particularly like Vernon at all,” Smutek said.
“There’s been a lot of bad blood over the last two years.
“There was a lot of chirping on the ice.”
The Mills are back in action Saturday night, still looking for their first win of the year, as they face the Trail Smoke Eaters for the second time in three nights. The Mills will certainly be looking to avenge Thursday night’s 8-2 loss to the Smoke Eaters.
“We got embarrassed and we’re not going to let that happen again,” Smutek said.
“We need to compete like we did tonight [against Vernon],” Hedley said.
“If we do, we’ll win.”