The Salmon Arm Silverbacks finished 2017 on a high note, upsetting the league-leading Vernon Vipers with a dramatic third-period comeback on Saturday Dec. 30.
The Silverbacks came into the game on an eight-game losing skid which began on Dec. 1. Most recently, they were shut out by the Vipers on Dec. 29 in front of the home crowd at the Shaw Centre. The game was a scoreless stalemate for the first two periods before a burst of offence from the Vipers put four unanswered goals on the scoreboard in the third period.
The Dec. 30 game started off in Vernon’s favour with a pair of goals in the first frame. Jagger Williamson scored 1:36 after the opening faceoff, controlling the rebound in tight to fire a shot past Reid Cooper in the net for the Silverbacks.
Keyvan Mohktari added to Vernon’s lead, scoring on the power play as Silverbacks’ forward Julian Timba sat in the box for interference. Sam Anzai was credited with the assist.
Vernon outshot the Silverbacks 12-6 in the second period but a strong effort from Cooper led to a scoreless period.
The Silverbacks got on the scoreboard 2:12 into the final stanza after Nick Unruh pulled a loose puck out of a scramble in front of the Vernon net and snuck it past Vernon goaltender Anthony Yamnitsky.
The Vipers retaliated 57 seconds later as rookie forward Connor Marritt finished off a play set up by Alex Swetlikoff and Coleton Bilodeau.
Silverbacks Captain Grayson Constable made it a one-goal game at 11:04, getting the feed from Akito Hirose and Nick Unruh.
A minute and a half later, Rhett Kingston raced down the right side of the ice and cut to the middle between two Vernon D-men before ringing a snipe off the right post and crossbar and into the net.
The Silverbacks cheering section which came up from Salmon Arm on a bus paid for by the team erupted in loud applause as the lamp was lit for the unassisted equalizer goal. The bus trip was the second time this season that the Silverbacks have picked up the bill for transportation and tickets so a group of fans can cheer the ‘Backs on at an away game. The two best-dressed ‘Backs fans who made the trip received autographed team jerseys.
It was anyone’s game to win with seven minutes left to play but the Silverbacks had the momentum. With Mokhtari in the box on an unsportsmanlike conduct call, Tanner Campbell received a pass from Kingston and fired it home to give the ‘Backs a late lead at 16:15.
The Salmon Arm squad held on for the win, leaving their record 13-21-3-0 while Vernon remains first overall with a record of 26-8-1-4.
In advance of the Dec. 30 game ,the Silverbacks made some trades meant to shore up their defence and add size and strength at the forward position.
On Dec. 27, the ‘Backs moved Marcus Mitchell to the Penticton Vees in exchange for towering defenceman Joseph Leahy.
“It is a bitter-sweet day for the Silverbacks organization in that we are announcing that we have traded Marcus Mitchell to the Penticton Vees for defenceman Joe Leahy. We are very sorry to see Marcus leave the program but felt that our team’s most immediate need was to shore up our defence,” said Silverbacks head coach and general manager Scott Atkinson.
“We wish Marcus nothing but success with his new team. We are very excited about adding a player of Leahy’s calibre to our roster and at 6’4, 210 lbs, we see him as a top-end defenceman who can contribute in all situations. The fact that he brings a full skill-set and a championship pedigree will be meaningful to our team’s culture.”
Mitchell had spent the last two-and-a-half years as a Silverback; he played in 122 games and contributed 27 goals and 34 assists.
Leahy dressed for his first game as a Silverback on Dec. 30.
Before the game on Dec. 30, the Vipers traded Josh Latta to the Vipers for Brandon Whistle.
“Josh was a very good player for us but we are looking to play a bit of a heavier game… A bigger, stronger forward fits our game plan more than a smaller, speedier guy at this point,” Atkinson said.
Whistle stands 6’1″ tall and weighs 205 lbs. The 20-year-old from West Kelowna played three seasons with the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the AJHL before joining the Vipers a month ago.
Latta and Whistle did not dress to face their former teams on Dec. 30.
The Silverbacks will seek to seize the momentum from their win against Vernon as they take on Wenatchee at home on Jan. 5.
-with files from the Vernon Morning Star