The Penticton Vees stopped the Vernon Vipers 4-1 in B.C. Hockey League play before 2,187 fans Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
It was the first victory in November for the Vees, who snapped Vernon’s undefeated streak at eight games.
Both teams were missing several regulars due to injuries and the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, and while there were a few heavy hits, the intensity normally shown was somewhat lacking. Penticton and Vernon tied 2-2 Friday night for the second time this season. The Vees edged the Vipers 3-2 earlier in the schedule.
Captain Jagger Williamson liked the way the Vipers played in the home-and-home series.
“Obviously, we were shorthanded and everybody was getting lots of ice but I thought we played well tonight,” said Williamson, a 19-year-old Vernon product. “We were on a bit of a streak there and obviously, it’s going to come to an end sometime. Now, we have try to get back on point and get the wheels going, straight forward.”
The three-point Remembrance Day weekend was just what the Vees needed as they reach the one-third section of the season.
“First of all, it was a great weekend for us,” said Penticton captain Grant Cruikshank, when asked to assess Saturday night. “Last night was for sure a building block, especially for what we’ve been going through the past month. Going into this game, we wanted to carry in how we played the last game and that was pay attention to detail and focus on the dee zone. If we do those things, it’s going to translate into offence like it showed tonight.”
Cruikshank said the Vees kept things simple, knowing full well what their opposition was capable of accomplishing.
“They’re always a good team, a skilled, fast and upbeat team and this is a huge rivalry. We have no trouble getting up for these games.”
The 19-year-old Wisconsin winger says the Vees, who only played four games in September, are primed to find their identity as the schedule gets busier.
“It’s time to really dial in the details, assess our group and figure out our roles on the team. This weekend was a huge stepping stone.”
Taylor Ward took first star Saturday with a goal and one assist with his father, Dixon Ward, a former NHLer, in the building, Blueliners Jonny Tychonick, Jordan Henderson and Ryan O’Connell, into an empty net with 79 seconds left, also converted for the Vees.
Henderson beat Viper goalie Anthony Yamnitsky with a high shot from the right point to make it 3-0 Vees late in the second period. The 20-year-old pride of Surrey was playing his second game with the Vees after a three-year career in the Western League.
Ward jumpstarted the offence by deflecting a Nicky Leivermann point shot past Yamnitsky on a late first-period powerplay for his third snipe of the year. Jared Nash earned the secondary helper.
The Vipers enjoyed a couple of decent scoring chances in the opening stanza with Josh Prokop swiping the puck from d-man Kenny Johnson at the Penticton blueline, cruising down the left flank and flipping a backhander on third star Adam Scheel.
Vernon d-man Michael Young rushed the Vees’ net and went backdoor, just missing after a sweet corner feed by Keyvan Mokhtari.
Tychonick upped the Vees’ lead on a powerplay at 16:24 of the second period as he moved to the middle lane and buried a point shot with four seconds remaining in Mokhtari’s tripping penalty. Ward pocketed the assist.
Viper rookie forward levelled Ben Allen into the boards near the Viper bench with the monster hit of the night. Allen got up in a hurry, unhurt.
Vernon towering blueliner Shane Kelly tossed a series of checks along the sidewall by the Penticton bench and seconds later, fooled Scheel from the side of the net for his second of the season with 30 seconds left in the frame. Williamson and Prokop produced assists.
“I was just buzzing down the wall and threw it on net and it was a lucky bounce but sometimes it happens that way, but I’ll take it,” said the soft-spoken 6-foot-5 Kelly, one of the league’s meanest rearguards.
Kelly, who hails from Michigan and turns 20 just 10 days before Christmas, wasn’t totally distraught after the loss.
“I still think we did some pretty good things, but there’s some stuff we need to work on, like keeping our dump-ins away from their goalie because he’s pretty good playing those. The result wasn’t what we wanted but the process was there.”
Mokhtari wheeled down the right sidewall, cut hard to the crease and just missed six minutes into the final 20 minutes. Vernon rookie Connor Marritt fanned on a loose puck which somehow popped into the deep slot with no defenders in sight.
Cassidy Bowes of the Vees wired a slapper off the far post on a dangerous rush midway through the period.
Vernon dropped to 15-5-0-4, while the Vees improved to 11-5-1-2. The Vipers are first in the Interior Conference, while the Vees are fifth. Penticton has five games in hand on Vernon.
The Vipers used affiliates Ben King and Hunter Floris for the second straight night. King, a Vernon 15-year-old, plays for the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets. Floris, 17, of Vanderhoof, is a regular with Cariboo Cougars of the Major Midget loop.
Penticton’s Jack Finley, who scored in his BCHL debut Friday night, got in a second tilt for the Vees as he battled his Rocket teammate King. Finley, 15, is from Kelowna and is the son of former NHL defenceman Jeff Finley, a Vernon minor hockey grad who is currently in Europe scouting for the Detroit Red Wings.
“I gave him (King) a smile at O Canada,” laughed Finley. “It’s a cool experience and fun playing against him and beating him.”
Finley joins Ward, Jackson Keane and brothers Owen and Lukas Sillinger as Vees with NHL fathers.
“It was awesome,” beamed Finley, named after his late grandfather. “I was really nervous but the guys were really nice and made me feel welcome and I had family here.”
The 6-foot-3 Finley has six points in eight games with the Rockets and like King, had no problem keeping up with the play.
“The speed is way quicker,” said the Kelowna teen. “They (Vees) play on bigger ice so as much as you don’t have the extra second in a sense, you do have more time because the ice is bigger. The size isn’t a huge factor because Midget hockey is pretty physical. The biggest thing is the way the guys use their sticks and close time and space.”