Merritt, BC: With 6 regulars out of the lineup and going up against a team who was chasing down top spot in the Interior Division, the Vernon Vipers gave the Merritt Centennials a big scare including 2 goals in the final minute of regulation to force OT. In the end it wasn’t quite enough as the Cents won 4-3 in the extra period.
The Cents no question prepared for a must win and came out buzzing in the first period. Bradley Cooper was beyond fantastic in the opening period stopping all 17 shots in faced. Some that he saw, others that he didn’t not to mention the solid defense in front of him to minimize too many second and third chances. The Vipers weren’t without their own chances as they tested Austin Roden, including a great chance from Teddy Wooding.
In the second, the Vipers gathered themselves and took over a good chunk of the period. The Vipers were on their first powerplay when they opened the scoring as Teddy Wooding let a hard shot go off the shoulder of Austin Roden. The puck went straight up in the air, dropped off the back of Roden and trickled in to give the visitors a 1-0 lead on Teddy Woodings 21st of the season. Four minutes later Payton Matsui tied it up as he walked off the right wall and rifled a shot over the glove of Cooper. The Vipers continued to push the pace on Roden, but there would be no more offense as the second period concluded 1-1.
In the third, after a couple of missed opportunities, the Cents powerplay gave them their first lead as Brad Cocca snapped home a goal to make it 2-1. Nick Wicks increased the Merritt lead to 3-1 as he kept on a 2 on 1 and beat Cooper to the glove side with just 6 minutes remaining. It would’ve been pretty simple for the Vipers to fold the tent, but instead they rallied. In the final minute, Logan Cash capitalized on rebound to make it 3-2 with 57 seconds left. The Vipers would call a timeout and get Cooper to the bench. From their the Vipers won a puck battle in the right corner, fed Judson at the point and with .6 seconds remaining his shot would daylight to tie the game up at 3.
In overtime, both teams had plenty of opportunities to win it. Out of necessity the Vipers took a penalty in the final minute of overtime and Mathieu Gosselin was teed up on a one-timer to give the home side the 4-3 win.
Here’s the unofficial scoring summary:
VER – Teddy Wooding (21) – Brendan Kim (10) – 7:24 (PPG)
MER – Payton Matsui (8) – Jackson Munro (15), Mathieu Gosselin (39) – 11:34
MER – Bradley Cocca (23) – Rylan Van Unen (14), Talon Zakall (10) – 9:55 (PPG)
MER – Nicholas Wicks (18) – unassisted – 14:00
VER – Logan Cash (7) – Elan Bar lev wise (19), Nick Cherkowski (11) – 19:04
VER – Jack Judson (7) – Matt Kowalski (30), Jesse Lansdell (19) – 19:59
MER – Mathieu Gosselin (22) – Nicholas Wicks (41), Christian Sabin (22) – 4:45 (PPG)
The Vipers will get home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs when they welcome the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The post season begins Friday March 1st for game 1, with game 2 going Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
Playoff tickets go on sale Monday morning at 9am at the outside box office at Kal Tire Place.
In other news, Vipers captain Jagger Williamson reached a mile stone as he tied Vipers great Garth Gartner for the most regular season games played in a Vipers uniform. Congratulations to our captain for that honour!