The Chilliwack Chiefs earned a huge two points Saturday night, bumping off the Vernon Vipers 3-1 at Prospera Centre.
Malcolm Gould led the way with one goal and one assist, helping his team move ahead of Vernon in the chase for fourth place, and the final playoff spot, in the Interior conference standings.
It was one of the cleanest efforts of the year for the Chiefs, who seemed in control for nearly the entire game. Head coach Harvey Smyl echoed that sentiment.
“I thought our defense as a group was very tight,” he observed. “They worked as group in the defensive zone, and kept things on the perimeter.”
Fresh off a three-goal effort in Friday night’s 6-4 win over Westside, Gould got the scoring started against Vernon.
The North Vancouver native picked the pocket of Vipers D-man Brett Corkey and took off down the left wing. In full flight, Gould fired from the left faceoff circle, beating Vernon netminder Kirby Halcrow for his 23rd of the year.
Gould was highlighed in this space last week for not finishing chances, with Smyl suggesting he was pressing too hard.
“Malcolm has stepped up and is now making the most of his chances with fantastic execution,” the happier coach said Monday morning. “He was even making chances when there really was nothing there.”
The first line of Gould, Derek Huisman and Bondra caused fits for the Vipers D, looking more dangerous than they have in weeks.
“The line as a whole did a better job of winning puck battles and a better job of protecting the puck once they won those battles,” Smyl noted. “And Huisman was extremely good on faceoffs this weekend.”
The Vernon win, as tidy as it was, still wasn’t without its warts.
Chilliwack might have dodged a bullet late in the first period.
With the Vipers on a power play, Patrick McGillis wired a slap-pass to Sean Robertson, who appeared to deflect the puck up and under the cross-bar.
But if he did, the puck went in and out too quickly for the goal judge and referees to notice, and the Chiefs escaped the opening frame with the 1-0 lead.
The home team went up by two early in period two, with Gould causing more havoc in the offensive zone.
This time he collected an assist with a shot that Halcrow couldn’t corral. Bondra crashed the crease and swept the loose puck home on the backhand, becoming the third Chief this season to surpass the 20 goal mark (Gould and Huisman the others).
Vernon cut Chilliwack’s lead in half, briefly, on a goal by Jedd Soleway.
Marc Hetnik got the assist, firing a shot from the right point. Soleway pursued the rebound into the blue paint and tapped it in for his 10th.
But the Chiefs answered back less than two minutes later.
Spencer Graboski got the goal, cutting right-to-left across the goal mouth, out-waiting Halcrow and shooting over the fallen netminder for his ninth.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Chilliwack 31-17.
A couple near misses highlighted the opening minutes of period three. At one end, a Vernon player got his stick on a point shot and re-directed the puck into the Chilliwack net. But the goal was waived off, with the refs ruling that he did so with a high stick.
Seconds later, Chiefs forward Trevor Hills chased a loose puck into the blue paint and appeared to poke the puck across the goal-line.
That too was waived off to a chorus of boos from the announced crowd of 2,149.
Injury troubles had Chilliwack playing shorthanded for the final 12 minutes of the game. Alexandre Perron-Fontaine took a stick to the face on a Chiefs power play and was led to the dressing room. Captain Ty Miller left the ice a couple minutes later, visibly angry, throwing his gloves as he came off.
Neither returned, forcing Chilliwack to play the rest of the game with four defenceman, one of them a raw rookie by the name of Robert Jang (playing just his fifth BCHL game).
Jang had one glaring giveaway, but otherwise held up well.
“It was a concern when we went down to four D, mostly because of the fatigue factor,” Smyl said. “But I thought they were solid in our zone and did a great job of moving the puck out of our zone quickly.”
The three stars were Gould (first) Graboski (second) and Kody Dhaliwal (third).
The Chiefs are on the road for their next four games, travelling to Prince George (Friday), Merritt (Saturday) and Westside (Sunday).
The next home game is Feb. 28 versus the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.