The Vernon Vipers put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in the BCHL’s Interior Division standings, upending the Trail Smoke Eaters 4-3 at Saturday night’s festive match at the Cominco Arena.
With Santa in the house, the Teddy Bear toss, a Toy Drive, and close to 1,300 fans cheering on the Smoke Eaters in their last game before the holidays, the Vipers Jesse Lansdell spoiled the party, scoring 5:59 into the third period to break a 2-2 tie and give the visitors a big division victory.
“It was pretty tight checking, it went back-and-forth,” said Vernon coach Mark Ferner. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. We played last night and they were sitting here waiting for us. Not a lot going on in the first period, we were fortunate to get the lead and we knew that they were going to continue to come.”
A point shot from Cameron Trott was deftly redirected at the top of the crease by Austin Adamson right to Lansdell who swept it into the open net to give the Vipers the 3-2 victory, and hand Trail its fourth straight loss.
“It’s tough to lose one going into the Christmas break, especially like that, a close game,” said Smoke Eater forward Braeden Tuck. “It’s important to bear down mentally, and get those wins, but we can’t do anything about it now.”
Tuck had a three-point night against Penticton on Wednesday, and was robbed by Vipers goalie Darion Hanson on a couple occasions Saturday night.
“Confidence is huge in this league, especially as a rookie it can sometimes take a while to find your groove,” added Tuck. “So a big game against Penticton, hopefully I can use that as a breakout game.”
The win gives second-place Vernon, 18-13-3-2, a six-point lead over a Smoke Eaters team, 16-17-3-0, that slips into a tie for third place with West Kelowna with 35 points, and just two points ahead of Salmon Arm and Merritt.
The Vipers opened the scoring when Steven Jandric tipped a Riley Brandt shot through the legs of Trail goalie Zach Dyment with three minutes to play in the first period as Trail outshot Vernon 9-8 in the period. The period ended with a scrum in the Vipers’ end that saw four misconducts handed out to Conner Clouston and Cooper Watson of the Vipers, and Ethan Martini and Ryan Moon of the Smokies.
Trail tied it at 8:36 of the middle frame when Luke Santerno sent Kale Howarth in on a partial breakaway and Howarth sniped a shot past Hanson to tie the match 1-1 for his 21st goal of the season.
The Vipers regained the lead with just over five minutes left in the middle stanza on the power play. Dyment made a huge pad save off a point-blank shot from Riley Brandt, but the puck came back to the point and Michael Ufberg fired a low wrister that found its way through traffic and the pads of Dyment for a 2-1 Vipers lead.
Trail pressed hard in the third period, and Connor Brown-Maloski tied it at 2-2, taking a pass in the slot from Ryan Moon and one-timing it by Hanson 5:39 into the period.
“I lost the faceoff and my wingers did a good job of pressuring the d-men, forced a turnover, and I just went to the net, and Moon just found me in the slot,” said Brown-Maloski.
However, the lead was short lived as 20 seconds later Lansdell netted the winner.
The Smokies pressed but could not beat Hanson the rest of the way, outshooting Vernon 16-7 in the period, and 31-26 in the game. In the end it was a combination of a good Viper penalty kill and poor execution on the Smokies power play that hampered their offence.
“They have some guys over there that we certainly have to be aware of,” said Ferner. “We know they like the seams, but our goaltending was good, again making sure that we were managing the puck and blocking shots. We adjusted a couple things to try to disrupt their entries, because they like to score off the rush.”
While the Smoke Eaters boast a decent 23.3 per cent success rate on the power play, it has struggled in the month of December. With one win, four losses, and two OT losses this month, Trail is 3-for-26 with the extra-man, and 0-for-8 in their two losses to Vernon.
“We’ve been having trouble breaking out, Vernon is a pretty aggressive team, and we just struggled a little bit and couldn’t get it set up,” said Brown-Maloski. “You have to work pretty hard on the PK and the power play and I think tonight definitely our power play wasn’t there, so after the break we’re going to have to get it clicking again if we are going to be successful.”
Trail was 0-for-4 on the power play, while Vernon was 1-for-3. Ufberg was the game’s first star, with Howarth taking second star honours, and Jandric third star.
The teams are off for the Christmas holidays, with Trail returning to the ice on Dec. 29 in West Kelowna.