Black Press Sports
Undefeated at home, ranked No. 1 in the 126-team Canadian Junior Hockey League, loaded with projected first-round NHL draft picks and NCAA refugees, and losers of just two games.
The Penticton Vees are a B.C. Hockey League powerhouse and on pace to break the New Westminster Royals’ record 108-point season in 1989-90 should they run the table.
The Vernon Vipers, struggling around the .500 digit, appeared unimpressed with the Vees’ numbers, earning a point in a 4-3 overtime loss before 2,521 fans Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The new and improved Vipers, who have tweaked their roster with four new additions in the last few weeks, actually held a 3-2 lead until defenceman Griffin Mendel’s point shot was deflected by Scott Conway past Viper goalie Andrew Shortridge with 1:36 to play.
Conway, who played for the Nittany Lions at Penn State last year, scored his 20th of the season at 3:17 of overtime, stretching his point streak to 24 games.
“It was just one of those things,” said Viper head coach Mark Ferner, of the 3-3 equalizer. “It goes back to the point and maybe we could have blocked it. The defenceman just throws it at the net and it finds a way to go in.
“When teams are playing well and they’re on a roll, that’s what happens; they find a way to tie it and they find a way to win it. They’re an older group and they’re a good, talented group. They didn’t panic; they stuck with it and they got a seeing-eye goal to tie it.”
Said Vees’ coach Fred Harbinson of Conway: “He played in the Big 10 last year. He was on the all-rookie team. We knew he was going to be able to contribute offensively. He’s gotten some big goals, a lot of game -inning goals for us. It’s exciting. It was a game we had to grind out with that many guys (five) out of the lineup.”
Vernon, fourth in the Interior Division at 13-13-0-2, led 2-0 early in the second period. D-man Griffin James potted his third of the year at 4:17 of the first on a point shot top cheddar by goalie Anthony Brodeur (son of ex-NHLer Martin Brodeur). Odeen Tufto and Charley Michalowski drew assists.
Red-hot Christian Cakebread made it 2-0 on the powerplay at 5:49 in the middle frame, knocking in a rebound from the slot after Tufto’s attempt. Liam Finlay earned the secondary assist.
Nic Jones, a former AJHL all-star who left the Ohio State Buckeyes three games into his sophomore season, converted on a Penticton powerplay 59 seconds later, tipping Dante Fabbro’s slapper from the point.
Shortridge dove to deny Conway’s one-timer on a later powerplay.
Cakebread put the Snakes up by a deuce 6:41 into the third, tapping in a backdoor feed from Jagger Williamson after a bizarre puck bounce off the boards. Finlay earned the other helper. Chris Gerrie’s ninth of the year, 1:14 later, pulled Penticton within a goal. Gerrie buried a loose puck after Shortridge recorded two fabulous stops in tight.
League points leader Tyson Jost – a first-round NHL draft prospect – dropped a pass for Conway down the sidewall and Conway beat Shortridge with a wrister for the winner.
“I thought we played real well against a real good hockey team,” said Ferner. “We came out and did a lot of things that we wanted to. It was a back and forth game and unfortunately, they ended up scoring with about a minute, 30 left and won in overtime, but that’s what good teams do; they find ways.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t come out of here with two points, but certainly happy we got one, and more importantly, our kids played real hard against a good hockey team and even more so on the road, where you don’t have the last change. I know our guys don’t understand it, but at the same time, they should be proud of their effort because we did a lot of good things out there and played our butts off.”
Ferner hopes the Vipers will sustain Wednesday’s effort as they open a home-and-home series tonight in Salmon Arm against the second-place Silverbacks (16-6-2-1). The Silverbacks just lost high-scoring forward Nick Hutchison with a serious shoulder injury in practice.
Finlay says the Snakes simply have to turn in a carbon-copy of Wednesday to keep moving forward.
“It was a fun game until the end, obviously,” said Finlay. “We did a real good job of playing against the best team in the league. We were on them really hard and created some opportunities and kept them on their heels.”
Finlay is one of 18 BCHLers invited to the Team Canada West camp, Dec. 5-8, in Leduc, Alta. The World Junior A Hockey Challenge will be co-hosted by Whitby and Cobourg, Ont. from Dec. 13-19.