The Salmon Arm Silverbacks closed out their B.C. Hockey League preseason schedule Friday with a 4-2 win over the Vipers in Vernon.
The victory salvaged a split of a home-and-home series with the rival Snakes after Vernon scored a 5-4 overtime win Wednesday at the Shaw Centre. Salmon Arm went 2-2 in the exhibition slate.
On his first shift of the preseason, forward Coalson Wolford ripped a wrist shot perfectly into the top corner right from the slot just over two minutes into the game. Logan Shaw dropped the pass for Wolford, while Holden Knights also drew an assist on the play.
A few minutes later, Viper forward Connor Sleeth made good on an opportunity from the slot, beating Backs’ goaltender Dylan Kruss just under the glove and over the pad to tie the game 1-1. It was Sleeth’s second consecutive goal against the Gorillas, having scored Wednesday’s overtime winner.
Daniel Rybarik made good on an odd-man rush by firing a shot short-side from the face-off dot that beat Dawson Pelletier. Rybarik’s third of the pre-season was unassisted. The Backs’ went into the intermission up 2-1, despite trailing in shots on goal 14-7.
The second period was filled with Silverbacks penalties, as they killed off four in total, including a 19-second 5-on-3. Kruss was busy in the crease, making 19 saves in the second period. With 3.3 seconds to go in the middle frame, Akito Hirose went to work, getting free in the slot area for a top-corner snipe that gave Salmon Arm some much-needed insurance. Tony Andreozzi got the lone assist on the goal.
Noah Wakeford kept the Silverback’s momentum going to start the third period, converting on a wrap-around just 16 seconds in. Saskatoon native Zach Gabruch picked up an assist on the tally. The Vipers got one goal back eight minutes later after JoJo Tanaka-Campbell stuffed one in right from the crease to make it a 4-2 game.
Dylan Kruss, SA Silverbacks: The Thornhill, Ont. native made quite the first impression, making 39 saves on 41 shots, including 31 saves in the first two periods alone. The refs also didn’t make it easy on him, not only putting the Silverbacks short-handed six times, but also by allowing the Vipers to run fairly freely around the crease area. Kruss stood his ground, making for a memorable debut.
Connor Sleeth, Vernon Vipers: Sleeth scored the first goal of the game for the Vipers and also had a few other Grade-A scoring chances in this one. The Markham, Ont. native also had the OT winner on Wednesday. His finishing ability has been evident the past two games.
Akito Hirose, SA Silverbacks: While Hirose’s puck skills are on display each and every game, it was the timing of his goal tonight that gets him a ‘standout performance’ nod. Not only did it hold up as the game-winner, but it was scored with 3.3 seconds to go in the period and doubled the Backs’ lead. Scoring that close to the intermission had to have been a tough pill for the Vipers to swallow, especially after they outshot Salmon Arm 19-10 in the period.
STAT OF THE GAME
Silverbacks PK 6-for-6: The second period was particularly rough in the penalty department, with the Backs’ having to kill off four straight, including a brief 5-on-3. But time after time, the PK units were up for the challenge. Vernon had trouble setting up in many instances, and when they did settle down in the offensive zone, either Kruss was there to make the save, or the Backs were able to apply pressure at the right time and clear the puck.
Salmon Arm will begin the BCHL regular season at home on Sunday, Sept. 8, with a game against the West Kelowna Warriors. Puck drops at 3 p.m. at the Shaw Centre.
—-with files from sasilverbacks.com