Ryan Brushett looks to be the game-breaker the Vernon Vipers appeared to be lacking early this B.C. Hockey League season.
The Verdun, Que. centre flashed magic twice as the Vipers clipped the Chilliwack Chiefs 3-2 in double overtime before 1,500 fans Wednesday night at Kal Tire Place.
Brushett, an 18-year-old USHL castoff appearing in his sixth Viper game, ragged the puck for about 20 seconds deep inside the Chiefs’ zone before dishing to Niko Karamanis just inches from goalie Mark Sinclair. Karamanis made a quick deke before sliding in his fifth snipe of the season with 2:07 left in three-on-three OT.
Brushett earlier used some major wheels and deals before wiring a wrister from the left hashmark for the 2-2 equalizer.
The teams were tied 1-1 after one period and 2-2 after 40 minutes in a highly physical tilt which featured dozens of monster hits and loads of playoff-like emotion. Chilliwack ambushed the Snakes 7-2 Saturday night at home.
“I was just waiting ‘till there was a double-team and then I just passed to one of the guys for an open look,” said Brushett, on the winner. “It worked out and we got the win.”
Vernon improved to 7-5-2, good for third place in the Interior Division. The Chiefs, who have pocketed points in seven straight games, went to 9-3-2, second in the Mainland Division.
Viper d-man Michael Ufberg, who rang up two assists, says Brushett shows regular moves like Jagger in practice.
“He’s got some silky mitts,” said Ufberg, a Philadelphia product. “He had a really good game. It was nice having him back because he was injured there for a little bit. He kind of helped us come together but we all really battled so it was a real nice win as a group.”
The league’s FASTHockey TV channel required extremely quick cameras to catch all the heavy hits in the final regular-season meeting between the two teams.
Newbie blueliner Connor Clouston knocked down Chief forward Nolan Zweep with a huge open-ice check near centre, seconds after Clouston almost put the puck in his own zone on a transition.
Chilliwack centre Will Calverley, playing without a helmet at the time, rocked Viper captain Riley Brandt at centre late in the third period.
In between, everybody was finishing their checks like they were earning bounty money and Cole Demers and Sinclair were making marvellous saves every few shifts. It was hardly a mid-week sleeper and the Vipers were clearly focussed on being better than four nights prior.
“It (7-2 loss) wasn’t acceptable for our team,” said Ufberg. “Obviously we’re a much better team than what we showed last week. It was important for us to get back to how we can play. We had a few team meetings and (head coach Ferner) Mark helped guide us to this win tonight. We just knew that we couldn’t have that happen again.
“It was a bit of a grudge match tonight. There was definitely some high emotions from the last game. We almost kind of built up a rivalry with that team the last week just from two games. The fans helped keep us in it tonight; they were really great. The emotion was high and we prevailed and we were the better team. It was one of the most fun games that I’ve played because of the fan experience and the guys were just so excited to be out there and again, to win that type of game was fantastic.”
Vernon minor hockey grad Powell Connor, 16, enjoyed a fabulous showing for the Chiefs, throwing several checks and clearing traffic in front of Sinclair. Connor pinned the bruising Brandt up against the back boards with a hip check the fans felt rated a penalty.
“He (Brandt) likes to mix it up so I like to get in his grill. He challenged me but I wasn’t going to go ‘em,” said Connor. “We could have skated a little harder here. We’re fast team and we could have executed a little better. They like to play a physical game and we just gotta outskate them.”
Connor, who played for the Okanagan Major Midget Rockets in Kelowna last season, loves being a Chief.
“It’s been fun so far, it’s a good challenge. It’s quicker so it’s adjusting to that and a little timing. The coaches want me to keep things simple, make easy plays.”
Former Viper and Vernon-born Linden Hora, in his third and final Junior A season, skated miles and played with an edge all night for Chilliwack.
“I thought we played with a lot of energy but made a couple of mistakes,” said Hora, whose younger brother, Spencer, plays for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. “We just work hard every shift, put pucks deep and go to the dirty areas. We’re not the biggest team, but everyone does their part. We can all skate and hit. They played better and were a little more physical than Saturday.”
On Connor’s rookie days, Hora said: “He’s doing really good and always with a smile on his face. He plays tough every game and gets in the dirty areas.
Viper first-line winger Steven Jandric, with his sixth of the season, converted with 32 seconds remaining in Austin Chorney’s first-period holding penalty, burying a rebound in the crease after Ufberg and Carter Stephenson went point to point before Stephenson unleashed a shot from the left side.
Jordan Kawaguchi (9th) and California newbie Justin Dixson (1st) supplied goals for the speedy Chiefs. Kawaguchi connected on a 10-foot wrister on a 5-on-3 man advantage in the opening 20, while Dixson fooled Demers from a tough angle, putting the Chiefs up 2-1.
Sinclair stymied Jagger Williamson with a marvellous leg save from gimme range just 50 seconds into the first overtime session. Brandt delivered a sweet pass from the left corner. Hora shot high over the net on a Grade A scoring chance two minutes later.
Dixson, who has an NCAA commitment with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen, just joined the Chiefs from the USHL’s Tri-City Storm.
The Chiefs also added forward Josh Borynec of the AJHL Bonnyville Pontiacs, dealing d-man Mitchell Oliver hours after grabbing Oliver from the Vipers for winger Jesse Lansdell.
Brushett split last season between the Sioux Falls Stampede and Bloomington Thunder.
“It’s a little more defensive in the USHL and a little more offensive here and I think it suits my game a little bit more so I’m liking the transition so far,” he said.
“We’re a pretty fast team. We play hard and we play good defensively. We’re trying to work on making sure that we’re a good defensive team so we can go play hockey. That’s our identity.”
The Chiefs visit the 4-8-0-1 Prince George Kings tonight, while the Vipers host the Trail Smoke Eaters Friday night. Chilliwack entertains the first overall Wenatchee Wild Saturday night.
In other Wednesday action, it was: Coquitlam Express 3 West Kelowna Warriors 2; Cowichan Valley Capitals 3 Nanaimo Clippers 1.