With an Edmonton Oiler chief scout in the building, Oiler draft Liam Coughlin delivered a goal and two helpers as the Vernon Vipers grounded the Penticton Vees 5-2 Tuesday night before 1,777 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Coughlin’s linemate Thomas Aldworth also pocketed 1+2 as the Vipers took Game 3 in the best-of-seven B.C. Hockey League Interior Division championship series. Penticton takes a 2-1 lead into the fourth game Wednesday night in Vernon. Game 5 goes Friday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Edmonton Director of Scouting Stu MacGregor, who is based in Kamloops, was in the building along with several other NHL scouts as Coughlin earned first star in a must-win situation. The Oilers selected the Boston product in the fifth round of the 2014 amateur lottery.
The Vipers looked like they had learned how to play hockey by correspondence in the opening eight or nine minutes. Former Spokane Chief Connor Chartier deflected Patrick Sexton’s point shot past Vernon goalie Danny Todosychuk just 48 seconds after the national anthem.
Steen Cooper then somehow beat four Vipers to a loose puck and stunned Todosychuk in tight to make it 2-0 3:10 later. The Vipers took a timeout and after a heavy bodycheck by Fortis Energy Player of the Game and ex-Prince Albert Raider Colton McCarthy, Vernon seemed more prepared for a playoff tilt.
Riley Brandt brought the house down a dozen minutes after Cooper’s tally, burying a wrister from a crazy angle in the right corner through a seam in Vees’ goalie Hunter Miska’s shoulder pads.
Roadrunner Thomas Aldworth, who netted a deuce in Game 1 to force overtime, then used his wheels to beat the Penticton defensive duo of Dante Fabbro and Patrick Sexton to the outside before wiring a shot past Miska from the ringette line two minutes later.
Defenceman Luke Shiplo put Vernon up by a goal 73 seconds later when he moved into the high slot on a powerplay and went top cheddar. Matthew Serratore of the Vees had just served 22 seconds of a high sticking minor.
Coughlin made it 4-2 Snakes 6:29 into the third period when he poked in a rebound on Miska’s doorstep after Shiplo made a nifty fake at the left blueline, moved up a few feet and sent a wrister on net which chased Miska.
The Vees pulled reliever Brendan Barry and went with six skaters on three when Jagger Williamson and McCarthy took penalties shortly after Coughlin’s goal. The Vees had the puck on a string for a good minute, but either missed the net with shots or were stymied by Todoyschuk, who flashed all-world leather on former Viper Demico Hannoun from the side wall for the save of the night.
“It was a little shaky off the start there obviously; it’s never good to go down 2-0 to these guys but the boys rallied and we got three quick ones and I think that kind helped me settle in and I made a few saves here and there,” said Todoyschuk, a 20-year-old Vernon product returning from Injured Reserve after leaving Game 1 against the Merritt Centennials in the late going.
“It was a pretty easy game for the most part. We played pretty well and spent most of the time in their end to make it easy for me. Guys were chipping in and blocking shots and our (penalty) kill was really good tonight which was essentially huge to keeping that three-goal lead we had.”
Barry allowed a soft shot along the ice by McCarthy at 13:02, prompting Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson to send Miska back into the crease.
Harbinson, who troops lost Game 7 to Vernon in Penticton last March, has nine players back from that series. He was high on the Vees’ quick strikes Tuesday night.
“I thought we came out well and obviously let in a tough goal and I thought our guys went inaward a little bit. I thought Vernon looked real nervous in the first five minutes and we took advantage of it and then once they got their first goal, obviously the ice slanted the other direction and we didn’t find a way to put the brakes on and, unfortunately. it carried on to the next period.”
Penticton outshot Vernon 28-26. The Vipers were without leading scorer Liam Finlay, who was nursing a head injury after taking a monster hit from Sexton Sunday night. Finlay is expected to play in Game 4.
The Vipers also scratched D Mitch Oliver and F Nic Rasovic, while the Vees sat F Mitch Newsome. Todosychuk, who rarely saw action in last year’s playoffs, is one of five Viper returnees from the 2013-14 Interior final series.
D-man Brandon Egli swatted a puck heading into the Viper net away after Todosychuk fell backwards after taking an errant stick to the mouth with 6:20 left in the second. Todosychuk took a quick trip to the bench to repair the leaking blood.
The Vees have 13 players with NCAA scholarships and the Vipers have nine.