Battling a sty, the swift West Kelowna Warriors, and inconsistent refereeing, Austin Smith led the Vipers to a 3-2 win over the visiting Warriors on Saturday.
There was some question about whether Smith would be able to play because his vision was partially obscured earlier in the day, but he persuaded his coach.
Smith kept his team in the game, especially during a stretch in the second period when he made three sensational saves when the Vipers wilted under Warrior fore checking pressure.
He stopped 39 of 41 Warrior shots to earn the game's first star.
Ambrose Firkus was most often stymied by Smith, as Firkus was robbed once in the first, twice in the second, and once in the third period.
Smarting from the 7-1 loss to the Warriors the previous evening, the Vipers came out strong at the beginning of the game and they scored at 2.02. Liam Board made the play, knocking down Dustin Cave, stealing the puck, and feeding Braedan Russell for a wrister that Tyler Briggs deflected but could not stop.
Seb Lloyd equalized as the period drew to a close, pouncing on a rebound of a Brett Zarazun shot. He then put the Warriors ahead at 8:52 of the second period when his soft backhand hit players in front and bounced past Austin Smith during one of six Warrior power plays.
Youngsters Mike Roberts and Logan Mick brought the Vernon fans to their feet with a high speed effort at 16:05. Roberts zipped through centre ice and found Mick on the left wing just over the Warrior line. Mick beat the D-man wide, cut in front of Briggs and slipped a backhand inside the far post.
Referee Korey Martens raised the ire of fans, players, and both coaches in the third period as he made phantom calls and missed glaring infractions.
In the first half of the period, the Warriors were unable to convert four straight power plays against determined Viper penalty killing. They moved the puck well at times, but generated just two scoring chances during 6:18 of power play time.
Then, 12 seconds into an 18-second man advantage, the Vipers struck for the winning goal at 11:26. Liam Board swept in the rebound of a Michael Statchuk shot and the Vipers held on to the lead.
Relentless Viper body checking seemed to wear the Warriors down. In their barrage of 50 registered hits, the Vipers seemed particularly intent on hitting Seb Lloyd and Adam Plant every time they touched the puck. The Warriors dished out 26 hits.
The physical intensity took its toll: Warrior Dustin Cave and the Vipers' Mike Roberts and TJ Dumonceaux all left the game with injuries in the third period.
The season series, now led by the Vipers two games to one, will resume at Royal Lepage Place next Friday.