Hardly fancy, the Trail Smoke Eaters work hard, try and keep things simple, and when in Vernon, go to overtime for an extra point.
The Smokies brushed back the Vipers 2-1 in double overtime Thursday night, the second time in just under a month they have earned a 2-1 OT victory at Wesbild Centre.
Garrett McMullen and linemate Brent Baltus, who leads the B.C. Hockey League with 21 snipes, combined on a nifty 2-on-1, just 13 seconds into three-on-three play. Defenceman Braeden Pears, who is fifth in Smokie scoring with 3-15-18, was also in on the winner.
“We do a three-on-three drill in practice and that’s it right there,” said McMullen, a Rochester, N.Y. product. “It’s kind of funny how it worked out because that was the game-plan. Me and Baltsy have good chemistry and Pearsy is a pretty good offensive defenceman so you throw all three in the mix and sometimes it works.”
Trail, who have given up a league-worst 141 goals against, part in thanks to a 9-2 spanking at home to the Vipers, used three Junior B call-ups due to a flu bug going around the dressing room. The Smokies (13-18-0-1) moved into a share of fourth place in the Interior Division with the Vipers (10-11-0-7).
“We really didn’t have much success here last year, but this year it seems to have turned around,” said McMullen, who set up Baltus for a shorthanded goal in the second period. “This is one of the toughest buildings in the league. Vernon, at home, is always one you mark on your calendar as a big game so it’s really big for our team.”
Adam Tambellini staked Vernon to a 1-0 lead midway through a sleepy first period. D-man Michael Statchuk, who made one impressive coast-to-coast rush before dishing to Pearce Eviston for a scoring chance seconds earlier, made the outlet pass to Tambellini.
Colton Sparrow took a feed from Tambellini and snapped a wrister towards Smokie goalie Lyndon Stanwood. Sparrow wisely went to the net and poked the rebound to Eviston, who in turn hit Tambellini for his 18th of the season.
Trail outshot Vernon 37-36 with Austin Smith matching Lyndon in the big-save department. Baltus took a stretch pass from Marley Keca and shot high over Smith on a third-period breakaway, while Austin Adduono took a giftwrapped pass from Viper d-man Geoff Crisfield and missed the net a few minutes later.
The Vipers did generate enough offence to win, but other than Sparrow, Aaron Hadley and a few others, nobody showed much intensity or third effort.
“No urgency, not enough pride in the Vernon Vipers’ jersey,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “I would give anything to be those guys and I don’t know what we have to do. They need to take more pride in doing the little things right. It’s a proud organization, but we need to make sure we have the right players to do it. Obviously, we have to get more out of them.”
Williamson has made a number of recent trades to change the culture and mind-set, but he spent a lot of time questioning players at the bench before 1,400 fans.
“We’re 28 games in, we’re 10-11-7 and it’s just not good enough. Other teams really want to beat us so you have to make sure you bring your A game. And that means not just one, two three guys, it means 20 guys. You gotta be committed and battle and compete, and you should relish in it.
“Just go compete, just go be simple. I don’t ask them to go end to end and score goals, I ask them to battle, be physical, be committed to the details and show some more pride.”
Williamson warned the Vipers that if they allowed the gritty Smokies to hang around, they might pay the price.
Dexter Dancs, an NHL-rated prospect the Vipers obtained from the Penticton Vees on Monday, played decent on a line with bruisers Braedan Russell and Liam Board. They had a few good chances with Board shooting right at Stanwood from in tight and Russell passing instead of going for a backhand from ‘gimme’ range.
“We didn’t execute the game-plan we wanted to,” said Dancs, a Vancouver product. “The guys were going hard but it didn’t turn in our favour. We didn’t bury our chances and they got a lucky one at the end, but we’ll bounce back tomorrow and come out with the two points.
“We just have to look deep inside ourselves and just turn it on. They are points we’re going to need at the end of the year.”
SNAKE BITES: Tambellini rang a shot off the right post with 22 seconds left in regulation…Vernon product Mat Lambert was summoned from the Junior B North Okanagan Knights and made his BCHL debut on a line with Michael Roberts and Logan Mick…Vernon’s Aaron Brandoli, of the Junior B Sicamous Eagles, was Smith’s back-up with Danny Todosychuk in sick bay…The Vipers will welcome New Jersey 20-year-old forward Andrew Tegeler into the lineup Friday night in West Kelowna. Tegeler compiled 19 goals and 40 points in 44 games with the Boston Junior Bruins two years ago. He was attending the NCAA UMass Amherst the last two years…The Vipers host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Saturday night.