Darren Rizzolo (left) of the Vernon Vipers battles Josh Blanchard of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Wednesday at Kal Tire Place.

Darren Rizzolo (left) of the Vernon Vipers battles Josh Blanchard of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Wednesday at Kal Tire Place.

Silverbacks pick apart Vipers

There are 132 teams in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League. The Vernon Vipers lost 6-2 to the 18th-ranked Salmon Arm Silverbacks Wednesday.

There are 132 teams in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League. The struggling Vernon Vipers lost 6-2 to the 18th-ranked Salmon Arm Silverbacks Wednesday night before 1,605 fans at Kal Tire Place.

For the Vipers, coming off a woeful double-loss weekend, taking the bigger and older Silverbacks almost to the limit was a much needed positive vibe.

Head coach/GM Mark Ferner still held a 35-minute closed-door meeting after the Vipers lost their third straight, but the morgue-like feel was somewhat lifted.

“It’s tough not to get the two points, but I think we had a good effort and just couldn’t get the goals that we were looking for,” said Vernon alternate captain Riley Brandt, who scored once and blocked a howitzer with his rear end killing a penalty.

“We’re a young group and we had an average game. We still gotta keep working to get those two points. Hopefully, it’s a stepping stone for what’s next. It’s gonna come.”

The Vipers host the last-place Trail Smoke Eaters (6-9) Friday night. The Silverbacks entertain the West Kelowna Warriors (9-5-0-2) Friday night.

The Silverbacks, who play a speed and in-yer-face game, stretched their win streak to five. The Vipers showed way more urgency and pushback than they did last weekend.

Nick Hutchison converted in the slot on a nice feed from second star Carson Bolduc to put the Gorillas up 93 seconds after the national anthem by Galina Labun. Hutchison’s eighth snipe of the season came after Viper winger Hunter Zandee was called for elbowing 10 seconds into the tilt.

The Vipers appeared to equalize seven minutes later when Jimmy Lambert tapped in a gorgeous feed from flashy d-man Bo Pellah. Salmon Arm goalie Angus Redmond knocked the net off its mooring with Lambert approaching and the officials ruled no snipe.

“It could have been a much closer game,” said Pellah, named the Fortis Energy Player of the Game for Vernon. “We got a no-goal call by the ref at the start there. I thought that should have counted because the goalie kicked the net off but you can’t blame the ref. You gotta compete for the full 60.”

Josh Blanchard picked up a turnover deep in the Vernon zone while killing a penalty and made it 2-0 with 2:27 left in the opening 20.

The Vipers responded on a power play 86 seconds later with captain Colton McCarthy knocking in a loose puck from in tight on Redmond. Darren Rizzolo took the point shot after a nifty feed off the sidewall by Brandt. It was McCarthy’s team-high ninth.

Vernon outshot Salmon Arm 16-13 in a sizzling first period and 39-37 on the night with Andrew Shortridge going the distance for the Snakes.

It was anybody’s game until Vernon veteran d-man Mac Ferner bounced the puck off the back of the Viper net right to Ross Heidt, who beat a stunned Shortridge at 13:42. It was Heidt’s team-leading 12th goal of the year.

The Vipers lost focus in the final five minutes of the third, allowing three goals in just over two minutes. Marcus Mitchell (5th), Vernon product Colton Thibault (8th), with McCarthy serving a slashing penalty, and Chase Zieky (4th), on a sweet redirect of a Jared Turcotte pass, completed the Silverback offence.

Brandt one-timed a slapper after a gorgeous cross-ice pass from Pellah for the Vipers’ second goal. It was 4-2 Silverbacks with four minutes to play.

Pellah figured the Vipers lost focus with the game tight, but he believes they can find a way out of this slump.

“We’re going through a little bit of a rough spot right now and we’re tying to figure it out there. Hopefully, we can get it together for Friday and get back on a roll like we were a couple of weeks before. Some guys are new to the league and they may be nervous or scared but we’re 18 games into the season so everybody should be adjusted to the pace and tempo. You gotta have some confidence out there.”

Salmon Arm improved to 11-3-2, six points back of the Interior Division leading Penticton Vees. Vernon dipped to 8-9-0-1 for fourth spot, four digits up on the Merritt Centennials for the final playoff berth.

“I thought our guys just competed hard,” said Gorillas coach Brandon West. “Vernon played real well and put us on our heels and we were fortunate to get some good bounces for our way. There was one span in the first period where Vernon was taking it to us and our guys did a real good job boxing them out and limiting their chances.”

The Silverbacks lost d-man Ryley Booth, a former Viper, after a blow to the head penalty on McCarthy late in the first period. They also had rookie forward Cameron Couture ejected early in the second period for a check from behind on Pellah.

Viper 16-year-old rookie Brett Stapley and 19-year-old Blanchard, who are similar size, traded a few punches in a spirited, even scrap behind the Viper net in the second period. The fight occurred seconds after Zack Andrusiak of the Vipers was whistled for running over Redmond.

D-man Cameron Trott, an 18-year-old Silverback rookie from Anmore, B.C. (Port Moody) did everything right all night to earn first star.

Thibault, a 20-year-old who registered his 25th career BCHL goal in this his third year, said it was easy preparing for the Vipers.

“Nobody in our room has to get up for this game,” said Thibault, who had a large hometown cheering section. “Everybody was fired up before we went to the rink this morning.

“They’re not as much a veteran team this year so it’s a little easier to push them around. Once we got under their skin, they started to unravel and that’s pretty much what we did and how we won. We realized that their dee were pinching a lot on us and we got a pretty quick team so we thought, chip it off the glass and go beat ‘em for a two-on-one or something and it worked.”

West says Thibault has been the Silverbacks’ most consistent player and a major leader every game.

“I’m not letting anything get in my head right now and I’m just going out there and having fun,” said Thibault.


Vernon Morning Star