Two road wins, four big points, in home-ice advantage spot for first round of the playoffs, eight games left.
The Vernon Vipers beat the Wenatchee Wild 2-1 in a B.C. Hockey League shootout Saturday – their first win in a shootout or overtime this season – in front of more than 3,300 fans on Guns and Hoses Night, a salute to law enforcement and firefighters, in Wenatchee.
The win came 24 hours after the Vipers exploded for five third-period goals in a 6-3 win over the Smoke Eaters in Trail.
Vernon went 4-1 on its five-game road swing over the last two weekends. The Vipers play five of their final eight regular season games at Kal Tire Place.
The wins moved the Snakes (22-18-7-3) into fourth place in the Interior Division, six back of the third-place Wild with a game in hand on Wenatchee (27-18-2-4).
The Vipers have a one-point lead on fifth-place Salmon Arm (24-20-4-1) and would face the Silverbacks in the opening round of the playoffs if the post-season started this week. But with eight games left, and 10 points separating second place from sixth, expect the jockeying for positions and home ice in the first round to continue.
The Silverbacks and sixth-place West Kelowna (26-23-0-1) each have 53 points. Trail (19-22-7-3) is seventh with 48 points. All seven Interior teams have qualified for the playoffs. The division-leading Penticton Vees (33-14-1-2), with 69 points, have a six-point cushion on the second-place Merritt Centennials (28-14-4-3). The Interior Division winner will play a crossover team from the Island or Mainland Division in the first round of playoffs.
Connor Marritt tied Saturday’s game 1-1 late in the second period, and goalie Aidan Porter stopped Christophe Fillion and Murphy Stratton in the shootout, while Marritt and Matt Kowalski scored for the Vipers.
Friday in Trail, the Vipers trailed 2-1 going into the final 20 minutes. Marritt tied the game, and Lane Zablocki gave Vernon a 3-2 lead before the Smokies tied it up from Mack Byers. Jesse Lansdell, with the winner, Josh Latta and Marritt, into an empty net, gave Vernon the two points.
Logan Cash opened the scoring for Vernon, who host the league-leading Chilliwack Chiefs (37-12-1-0) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Kal Tire Place.
The Vipers and Vees begin a home-and-home series Friday in Penticton, with the rematch Saturday at 6 p.m. at Kal Tire Place. Prior to the game, a banner recognition ceremony will be held to honour the 1976-78 Vernon Tigers lacrosse team, who won three straight provincial and Canadian Senior B championships. A number of members of the team will be introduced and will drop the ceremonial puck.
SNAKE BITES: Latta has landed an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship with the University of Alabama-Huntsville for next season. Latta leads the team in points with 19-19-38.
“It’s a very exciting time in my life right now,” said Latta on the Vipers’ website. “This is something I’ve worked so hard at to achieve over the last three years and to have my dream finally come true is really an incredible feeling.
“This couldn’t be more of a well deserved scholarship,” added Vipers head coach and general manager Mark Ferner. “Not only are they getting a very competitive, committed player, but they’re also getting an outstanding young man. We are extremely happy for Josh and his family.”