Two teams with aspirations of long playoff runs blessed with loads of speed and solid structure on defence. Something had to give between the Vernon Vipers and Victoria Grizzlies Friday night at Kal Tire Place.
The Grizzlies’ 747 start was the difference as they grounded the Vipers 4-2 in an entertaining B.C. Hockey League tilt before 1,743 fans.
Tim Friedmann (15th), d-man Cody Van Lierop (4th), first star Keyvan Mokhtari (19th) and Nathan Looysen (19th), into an empty net with 20 seconds remaining, scored for Victoria (36-11-3-4).
Friedmann and Van Lierop supplied goals 61 seconds apart early in the opening period with Mokhtari making it 3-0 with 84 seconds left in the stanza.
Said Mokharti, a Burnaby product who scored with a quick wrister wheeling down the left wing: “We knew they were gonna come out hard and we had to weather the storm at the beginning, but that lead we got in the first period helped us to calm down for the rest of the game, and even when we were only up by one, we were very confident we could get the job done.
“They’re a really good team; they’re second in their division. They’ve got a lot of speed and grit and you can see they like to hit and play physical so we tried to stay out of the stuff after the whistles and make sure we played our game and not fall into their trap.”
Ryan Brushett, with his ninth, and Brett Stapley, with his 13th, on powerplays seven minutes apart in the third period, answered for Vernon (28-18-5-4).
Vernon captain Riley Brandt showed great poise along the right sidewall to keep a loose puck inside the Victoria zone before d-men Cameron Trott and Michael Ufberg moved the puck to Brushett from five feet out.
The Vipers outshot the Grizzlies 37-26 with all-star Matthew Galajda improving to 24-9 with a marvellous showing. Ty Taylor dropped to 12-11.
Victoria took four of six minor penalties. Stapley, who just committed to the Denver University Pioneers for the 2018-19 season, was named the Fortis Energy Player of the game for Vernon. He supplied the goal of the night, taking a feed from Jimmy Lambert in stride and juking and jiving in front before going top shelf. Ufberg drew the secondary assist.
Ufberg’s high shot from the left point bounced high off Galajda’s chest and rolled away from the crease as Vernon pressed for the equalizer with six attackers in the final 83 seconds. Looysen grabbed a loose puck just outside the blueline, skated past centre and buried a wrister for the empty netter.
“That was a tough loss,” said Ufberg, chosen second star. “We didn’t come out of the gate too strong but after the first 10 minutes or so, we came together and outplayed them the rest of the game. All the guys put in a good effort tonight.”
On Victoria, Ufberg said: “They’re a good team, You gotta give them credit. They’ve kind of got all the tools: a lot of skill up front and some big bodies that can hit, some skill on the back end and their goalie played phenomenally tonight. It’s a team that we may see again if we end up winning our division, in the Fred Page Cup.”
Brandt tossed the two heaviest hits of the night, levelling d-man Dayne Finnson with an open-ice smash with two minutes and change left in the first period and later rocking Mokhtari to the ice on a late Victoria powerplay in the third.
The Vipers carried most of the play in the second period, outshooting the Grizzlies 15-8 and enjoying a few Grade A scoring chances. Vernon product Coleton Bilodeau played on the Viper fourth line with Simon Sagissor and Brody Dale and just missed in the low slot after a sweet pass by Lambert late in the period. Jesse Lansdell came inches away from converting a wraparound on Galajda shortly after.
Mokharti believes the Grizzlies have the moxy to reach the league finals. They clipped the Penticton Vees 2-1 in OT at home and have played the Wenatchee Wild tough.
“We have strength from the back,” said the 5-foot-8, 160-pound roadrunner. “We’ve got a really good dee core and our goaltending’s really good. It makes it easy for us forwards since we can get out of our zone pretty easy most of the time and we can go down and create some offence.”
The Vipers host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Saturday at 6 p.m., while the Grizzlies visit the West Kelowna Warriors at Royal LePage Place. The Salmon Arm Silverbacks shut out the Dawgs 4-0 Friday night at Shaw Centre, while the Warriors lost 5-0 to Penticton.
Vernon product Blaine Caton registered his 14th and 15th goals of the season as the Trail Smoke Eaters dispatched the Merritt Centennials 8-5 before 1,407 fans at Cominco Arena. The Smokies are third in the Interior with 56 points, two more than West Kelowna and four in front of the Cents. The Silverbacks clinched the crossover playoff spot and have 46 points.
The Vipers finish the regular season next weekend with a home and home series with the Smokies and then get a 20-day break before the playoffs.
Vernon was without injured F Hunter Zandee and ill D Cooper Watson. Alternate captain Jagger Williamson was given the night off.
Prince George Spruce Kings’ D Tyler Anderson, who was traded by West Kelowna after six games this year, has signed a letter of intent with Lake Superior State Lakers. The towering Manitoba native has 18 goals and 47 points.