Somewhat goal challenged due to injuries and suspension, the Vernon Vipers somehow found themselves with an early 4-0 lead before 1,425 eye-witnesses Wednesday night at Kal Tire Place.
A tough lead to maintain at any level, the Snakes played smart enough and held on for a 5-2 win over the Langley Rivermen in an intense mid-week B.C. Hockey League tilt.
Toss in an old-school heavyweight scrap between Viper d-man Connor Clouston and Langley captain Cooper Leitch, and fans and NHL scouts from Detroit, Ottawa and Dallas definitely got above-average entertainment value.
Rookie goalie Ty Taylor had a good view of the Viper offensive explosion: goals by Jesse Lansdell, Austin Adamson, defenceman Michael Ufberg and Steven Jandric in a nine-minute span in the first period. Jandric produced the prettiest goal of the night with a beauty deke after cutting hard to the net.
“We just stuck to the game-plan,” said Taylor, a 17-year-old who made 23 saves for his eighth win. “We chipped pucks deep and got some traffic and kept it simple. We won our battles and that’s when we’re successful.”
The Rivermen responded shortly after the rousing Clouston-Leitch scrap, getting second-period snipes from d-man John Schuldt and Andrew Dumaresque 81 seconds apart. Darren Hards was denied by Taylor on a short breakaway shortly after Dumaresque converted on a scramble.
“That first period killed us,” said Rivermen dynamic d-man Cam Ginnetti, a Clarkson Golden Knight commit. ”It’s hard to come back from four goals. We recovered by getting the puck deep and playing more physical. That was the game-plan coming in. That (fight) woke us up. He’s our captain and that’s what he does. I think he won the fight in the end.”
Lansdell, chosen first star, struck the post on a wrister with 4:30 left in the third period which featured several heavy checks. Christian Cakebread connected with his seventh goal of the season, into an empty net, with 31 seconds remaining as Vernon improved to 11-11-2. Langley dipped to 8-12-3.
Rookie Braedon Fleming, who got little defensive support in the opening 20, fell to 2-2.
Lansdell, who like Adamson, pocketed his second goal of the year, enjoyed a breakout game of sorts. It was his 11th game with Vernon since a trade with the Chilliwack Chiefs, where he rang up 15 goals last year.
“It’s been a rocky start and I’ve been trying to find my game by fighting through it,” said the muscular Lansdell, 18, who has crosstrained with lacrosse, soccer and volleyball. “We came out and tried to get pucks deep and get their dee turned around; that, and working hard, are the keys to our success.”
On the Rivermen, Lansdell, a Notre Dame Fighting Irish commit, said: “They’re a hard-working team. Give them props for coming back from 4-0. After they scored a couple, we got our heads back and took over.”
Taylor looked sharp as the Rivermen used a quick transition game for numerous scoring chances. Taylor recorded two sweet saves off the big line featuring Ryan Barrow and Leitch while doing a snow angel in his crease five minutes into the second.
“I’m getting more comfortable every game,” said Taylor, who does video chats with sports pyschologist Saul Miller. “He told me to keep the game small and not overthink. It’s just ‘stop, set, save.’”
Vernon summoned wingers Brody Dale (Kelowna) and Evan Walls (Kamloops) from Junior B. The Vipers visit the West Kelowna Warriors Friday night before hosting the Cowichan Valley Capitals in a Sunday matinee.
Vernon was without leading scorers Jimmy Lambert and Jagger Williamson, both sidelined with injuries, suspended captain Riley Brandt and freshman blueliner Chris Jandric. Langley was without 20-year-old all-star sniper Max Kaufman.
The Vipers moved to within one point of the second-place Trail Smoke Eaters in the Interior Division, while the Rivermen remain tied for fifth in the Mainland Division with the Surrey Eagles.
Jordan Kawaguchi and Jake Smith each recorded deuces as the Chilliwack Chiefs grounded the visiting Wenatchee Wild 7-3 in other Wednesday night play. Charlie Combs counted his league-high 26th goal for the Wild, who are two points in front of the Chiefs atop the Mainland.