The Warriors edged Vernon 2-1 on Tuesday, to win the season series 4-3 and creep within three points of Merritt.
It’s a big win for the Tribe, and also very well earned. The Vipers seem to play some of their best hockey against West Kelowna – and had another strong effort in this one as they attempted to climb back into the playoff race.
It was low-scoring affair but still a great game to watch, with some end-to-end action, lots of good body-checks and cycles, and a finish that came right down to the wire.
The Warriors got the opening goal 4 ½ minutes in when a Shawn Hochhausen dump-in took a crazy bounce right in front of Austin Smith and eluded the Vernon netminder. Tough break for the Vipers, and I’m sure even tougher to swallow considering their current predicament. West K would strike again later in the frame – this time on a very well earned goal. After some excellent cycling and battle from Matt Anholt, Reid Simmonds, and Devon Hascarl (this unit had a bunch of impressive shifts on Tuesday), Hascarl was able to jam an Anholt centering pass past Smith. The Warriors led 2-0 after the opening period – despite the fact that the Vipers probably generated more than their hosts in the frame.
West Kelowna had a great start to the second period, and a strong frame overall, yet Smith was solid as the Vipers hung around in the game. Late in the frame, Liam Board managed to squeeze one past Myland – and the loose puck was quickly poked home by Jason Bird to get Vernon within one. I was very impressed with Vernon’s top line of Board, Mason Blacklock, and Andrew Tegeler (Tegeler was named the third star) in this game. However, while these guys had a lot of good cycles and offensive-zone possession, I also thought the Warriors did a good job of keeping everything to the outside.
For the rest of the game, both teams had their share of possession and chances, but the defenders on both sides continued to shine, with grade ‘A’ chances held to a minimum both ways. And when guys did break through, the goalies were always there. Austin Smith will have nightmares about Hochhausen’s goal but did play a solid game and gave his team a chance to climb back into it. Steven Myland, meanwhile, played his best game as a Warrior – and looked confident and poised all night long. Any rebounds Myland allowed seemed to fall right in front of him, and (except on the Bird goal) he always seemed able to find loose pucks before the Snakes could.
Tempers flared briefly in the third period, as Marcus Basara was dealt a borderline hit by Geoff Crisfield. The Vipers defenceman was served 5+game and Max French was served a minor for trying to jump in. But I actually thought both PK’s looked good all night long, with the Vipers ending at 0/3 and the Warriors going 0/2. There was also a scary incident when a Mitch Nardi shot ramped up off the stick of Jason Bird and caught Bird in the throat. Bird hurried to the Vipers’ room in some distress, but I understand that he is in good shape now – and only visited the hospital briefly to make sure everything was OK.
With no scoring in the final period, the Warriors were able to hang onto the 2-1 lead and ice another big victory. Home ice advantage is still well within reach of this club – pending the big home-and-home set with Merritt this weekend.
The Warriors are also starting to look like more of a playoff team, and now have almost a complete lineup. Braxton Bilous returned to action on Tuesday and rejoined Brett Zarazun in a shutdown role. Dustin Cave and Brennan Clark also both served their single-game bans, meaning all of West K’s discipline from the Penticton encounter has now been served.
The Warriors now have 13 wins, 1 tie, and 4 losses (2 of them in OT) in 2013. January and February were both outstanding months for this team – giving fans at home plenty to be excited about and ensuring the race for second place continues.
West Kelowna has also shown some great depth in the past couple of weeks, starting with a couple of strong showings from Steven Myland. Devon Hascarl, Reid Simmonds, and Matt Anholt also had a wicked game on Tuesday, illustrating the impressive roster this team has up front. And with a healthy and re-instated back end – I’m sure coaches around the BCHL are taking notice.
There are now just five games remaining in the season, starting with a huge set against the Centennials this weekend. Friday also brings the final home date of the regular season.
Stay tuned for video highlights plus my post-game interviews with Rylan Ferster and Devon Hascarl. Also check out the player profiles page of this blog for my new feature on Ambrose Firkus.