The Vipers’ tenuous playoff hopes took a major hit with a 3-1 loss in West Kelowna on Saturday.
The game’s key play was Goalie Dwayne Rodrigue’s stop on Adam Tambellini in the second period. At 12:28, Tambellini stepped out of the penalty box and accepted a breakaway pass from Brett Corkey. He faked forehand and nearly slipped a backhand under Rodrigue, but the diminutive goalie got the puck under his left pad.
That save seemed to ignite the Warriors, who pressed for the remainder of the middle period. Kirby Halcrow was the main reason the Warriors didn’t add to their 2-1 lead. He robbed Connor Dempsey and Marcus Basara with his glove and made several good stops with his stick and blocker.
In the third period, a desperate Viper squad outshot Westside 12-4, but Rodrigue was superb. With the score still 2-1, he slid across to commit grade “A” larceny on John Knisley’s one-timer.
Against the run of play, Brett Mckinnon scored for Westside. The best Warrior on the night, he skated past a Viper defender to deflect Sean Hochhausen’s pass into the far corner at 13:40.
In the third, the Vipers had difficulty getting passes through Westside’s neutral zone trap, so they tried to skate the puck through the Warriors. Time and time again, spirited rushes by such players as Ryan Renz and Brett Corkey did indeed get the puck into the Westside zone, but then the Warriors collapsed to the net. Still, the Vipers generated several good scoring chances only to be denied by Rodrigue.
It was a disappointing evening for the Vipers who started the game brightly when Darren Nowick and Mike Zalewski combined for a short handed goal at 3:17. Nowick stole the puck from Reid Simmonds who was manning the left point.
Nowick found Zalewski who was steaming down the left wing and the big winger faked a shot before beating Rodrigue high glove side.
The Warriors equalized at 17:03, courtesy of a fine play by Marcus Basara. The ex-Viper hustled into the Viper zone and from the left faceoff circle zipped a pass that Connor Dempsey tipped in.
Dru Morrison scored the winner in the second, with a wrist shot that eluded Halcrow.
And so the Vipers slipped to 7-20-0-1 on the road this season, following a familiar pattern in which they fail to capitalize on their chances. Still, credit is due to the Warriors who were tenacious on defence and opportunistic on offence.
Although Peter MacIntosh, Travis Blanleil, and Dru Morrison were picked as the three stars of the contest, Dwayne Rodrigue, Brett Mackinnon, Marcus Basara, and Max French were the best Warriors and the Vipers’ Brett Corkey also deserved recognition.
Both teams were short-staffed. The Warriors started with 14 skaters and lost Devon Hascarl who was taken out by a Colton Sparrow hit in the second period. Sparrow was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for the check and will be suspended for two games.
The loss puts the Vipers in jeopardy. One more Viper loss or Chilliwack win will eliminate Vernon from the playoffs.