No head coach. No captain. No big deal.
The red-hot Vernon Vipers extended their winning streak to five by stopping the host Prince George Spruce Kings 5-3 before 1,189 B.C. Hockey League fans Wednesday night at the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
Jimmy Lambert scored twice, once into an empty net with 1:53 to play, as the Vipers improved to 22-13-3-2.
Vernon remained a dozen points back of the first-place Penticton Vees, who iced the West Kelowna Warriors 4-2 in front of 2,777 fans at the South Okanagan Events centre.
Assistant coach and former captain Kevin Kraus ran the Viper bench with Kevin Pedersen’s help. Head coach/GM Mark Ferner stayed home to man the phones on trading/carding deadline Tuesday. The Vipers were without injured forwards Riley Brandt (captain) and Luke Gingras. Forwards Brett Witala of the Kelowna Chiefs and Hayden Dick of the Kamloops Storm were summoned from Junior B.
“It wasn’t a masterpiece, considering we had an eight-hour bus trip,” laughed Pedersen. “When teams are going good in any sport, they find ways to win. Special teams won us that game. We scored twice on the powerplay and didn’t allow any so we did what we needed to.”
Hunter Luhmann ended his 24-game goal drought to open the Spruce King scoring, beating goalie Darion Hanson with a snapper from the right sidewall, 2:18 after the national anthem.
Former Cariboo Major Midget Cougar Chris Jandric, a Prince George product, equalized on a powerplay with 38 seconds left in the opening 20 minutes. Jandric beat PG goalie Tavin Grant over the right pad with Luhmann in the penalty box for tripping. Jandric, a d-man, has two goals. Assists went to Brett Stapley and Chris’ brother, Steven.
The Snakes went in front shortly after the BCHL media timeout midway through the second period when blueliner Cameron Trott went bar down on the right side for his fifth of the year. Jagger Williamson and Hunter Zandee drew helpers on the powerplay tally.
Luhmann levelled the score three minutes later when he whacked in a feed from behind the net by Parker Colley. Travis Schneider earned the secondary assist.
Stapley, who is the highest-scoring 17-year-old in the BCHL, made it 3-2 Vernon when he picked the near corner from the right wing, with 1:33 remaining in the second. Austin Adamson pocketed the assist. Stapley has seven goals and 32 points, second best on the Snakes. He rang up 53 goals and 138 points in his final Bantam Tier 1 year with North Shore Winter Club.
Lambert registered his 14th of the year on a gorgeous goal 99 seconds into the third period. The Saskatoon sniper beat a d-man with speed down the right flank and beat Grant with a backhander. Steven Jandric and d-man Michael Ufberg assisted.
Chong Hyun Lee answered for the Spruce Kings 10 minutes later, slipping a backhand rebound through Hanson’s legs. Lee, a Port Coquitlam product, has nine points in the last five games and 30 on the season. Schneider and Connor Russell had helpers.
“From our goaltender out, it was a well-fought battle,” said Lambert. “It was tough to get our legs under us after a long bus trip (Xbox gaming was the primary entertainment source) but we did a really good job sticking to our systems. Our confidence is pretty high right now.”
Prince George dipped to 19-17-2-2, good for third place in the tough Mainland Division. The Wenatchee Wild are first at 30-6-4, while the Chilliwack Chiefs are second at 26-9-5.
The Vipers host the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (16-21-2-1) Friday night and entertain the Merritt Centennials (14-17-7-2) Saturday (6 p.m.)
Ferner managed to add a pair of forwards at the deadline. Brody Dale, 17, of Quesnel, and Simon Sagissor, 19, of Stillwater, Minn., are now in the Snakepit.
“It’s a pretty important time of the year so I stayed behind to make sure I could help our hockey club,” said Ferner. “I signed Brody at about 11 last night. The trading deadline was 8 p.m. but we were allowed to add players who had been released or from Junior B until midnight. I let it be known that I had one card remaining after eight, and was on the phone regarding some other players as well.”
Dale, who has played eight games with the Vipers as an affiliate from the Junior B Kelowna Chiefs, rang up 15 goals and 39 points in 26 KIJHL games, third best on the Chiefs. The rugged 5-foot-7, 150-pound winger amassed 77 penalty minutes.
“Brody is an intelligent player and has a great work ethic. He’s a ‘99 (birthdate) so his numbers are pretty impressive. He’s a skilled guy that plays hard and he’s a terrific kid.”
Sagissor has split this season between the North American Hockey League Madison Capitals (2G in 17 games) and Coulee Region Chill (1-3-4 in 10 games). He had 10 penalty minutes.
The 5-foot-11,175-pounder scored 17 times in 49 games with Stillwater over two high school seasons. Sagissor’s father is a part-owner of the Madison franchise.
“Tom (Simon’s father) and I played against one another for a brief time a long time ago,” said Ferner. “He reached out to me a few weeks ago when I had other things going on.”
Ferner had to tackle some major paperwork and go through a conference call with the Coulee Region officials, Hockey Canada and Sagissor before signing Simon.
“It was a bit of a schmozzle but we got it done. Cooper (Viper defenceman Watson, who played with Madison) says Simon is a good player and will fit in, and Niko’s (Viper F Karamanis) brother knows him and said good things about him. It just wasn’t a good situation for him in Madison so he ended up with Coulee.”
Ferner said he did not want to disrupt the Vipers’ culture with any blockbuster deals because he believes in this group. Lambert said the Vipers are stoked about the new new additions.
“The two APS really helped us be better rested for at least two shifts in Prince George and having two more bodies in our lineup is big,” added Lambert.
The Cents signed Vernon’s Ethan King at the deadline. King, 17, was released by the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound d-man played 14 games for the Canes. He got in just five games with the Junior B North Okanagan Knights last year due to a serious injury.
Nic Jones bagged a pair of shorthanded snipes and Owen Sillinger hit the empty net with 25 seconds left as Penticton upended the Warriors.