On Western Night at the Kal Tire Place Corral Saturday, Matt Kowalski wore the white hat and rode in to rescue his hometown from the bad guys.
Kowalski, a Vernon product, scored at 3:47 of overtime as the Vernon Vipers won their fifth straight B.C. Hockey League game, 3-2 over the black-hat-wearing Trail Smoke Eaters before 1,934 fans.
The loss snapped Trail’s franchise-record nine-game winning streak, which the club set Friday with a 4-1 win over the visiting Nanaimo Clippers at Cominco Arena.
Kowalski rifled a slapshot past Smokies goalie Logan Terness for his sixth goal of the season. Kowalski has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his last five games.
Defenceman Trey Taylor opened the scoring with his first of the year and with the Vipers shorthanded. He took a pass from Connor Sleeth and snapped a shot past Terness. The Trail forecheck would go to work later on in the period, directly leading to Tyler Ghirardosi’s game-tying goal, his fifth of the year. The Smoke Eaters had four powerplays in the period but only had six shots.
In the second period, the Vipers did some good work along the wall where Dawson Holt would find Kowalski out of the left circle and he scored his fifth of the year to make it 2-1. While the Vipers were on a powerplay, the Smoke Eaters would get the best chance as Kieran O’Hearn rang a shot off the goal post behind Vernon netminder Reilly Herbst.
A Trail powerplay later, it was their second unit putting a puck at the net. The rebound was poked in by Liam Freeborn to tie the game 2-2.
In the third, Terness and Herbst stole the show. Terness robbed Connor Marritt with a highlight reel paddle save to keep the game tied, and not to be outdone, Herbst gave his team a chance after Tyler Ghirardosi would get an opportunity on a shorthanded breakaway but was hauled down. On the ensuing penalty shot, Ghirardosi would make a great move, but Herbst threw out the left hand to make the big save.
Vernon is now 8-6-0-0 on the year, good for fourth place in the Interior Division, four points behind Trail (9-5-0-2) and with two games in hand on the Smokies.
Trail visits the slumping Penticton Vees Wednesday. The Vees have lost four in a row after winning their first 11 games of the season. The Smoke Eaters and West Kelowna Warriors play a home-and-home weekend Friday and Saturday beginning in West Kelowna.
The Vipers, who beat the Vees 2-1 in overtime in Penticton Friday (Christian Felton with the winner), will now embark on an 11-game road trip that encompasses 33 days. The first leg of the trip will be Friday night when the Vipers head to Powell River and take on the Kings. The Vipers return to Kal Tire Place Friday, Nov. 22, against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.