Chilliwack Chiefs invade snake pit

The Chilliwack Chiefs face a struggling Vernon Vipers squad in weekend BCHL action.

If ever there’s been a good time to face the Vernon Vipers, this is it. The Chilliwack Chiefs travel to Vernon Saturday night to face a perennial BCHL powerhouse that has fallen on hard times.

The Vipers, used to being at the top of the Interior conference, find themselves near the bottom, victims of a string of bad breaks.

Anything that could go wrong for the Vernon Vipers seems to be happening all at once.

Not only will the Snakes be without veteran forward Brendan Persley for at least the next six weeks (he went in for surgery Tuesday to repair a broken leg), they also lost the services of recently acquired winger Cody Fowlie.

Fowlie, an Airdrie, Alta. product who had a goal and assist in three B.C. Hockey League games since joining Vernon from the WHL Everett Silvertips, was plucked by the Kelowna Rockets Monday afternoon.

“He was going to be a huge part of this,” said general manager and head coach Jason Williamson. “The chances of that happening were not good, but Kelowna had some injuries. I don’t blame him for going one bit, but it’s a tough pill to swallow on our part for sure.”

Fowlie, 20, is expected to join the Rockets on a four-game road trip to Alberta starting tonight against the Medicine Hat Tigers. He was playing on the Vipers’ top line with Adam Tambellini and Aaron Hadley.

Said Rockets’ head coach Ryan Huska: “Having just one 20-year-old in your lineup isn’t really enough. A lot of times, those older guys can come in and push the rest of your lineup, including the other overage players.

“We want to see Cody come in here and compete for a spot.”

If the loss of Fowlie wasn’t enough to test the downtrodden Vipers’ depth, they could soon be waving goodbye to their top two scorers – Adam Tambellini (6-6-12 in 14 games) and Aaron Hadley (6-3-9 in 14) – and hard-nosed rookie d-man Kevin Guiltinan for a while. The trio leaves Sunday to audition with Team Canada West for the World Junior A Challenge, which goes Nov. 5-11 in Yarmouth, N.S.

Should they make Canada West, they will miss the Vipers’ next four games.

Fortunately for Williamson, they will be in the lineup Friday night when Vernon entertains the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Friday night (7:00) at Wesbild Centre, and against the Chilliwack Chiefs Saturday.

The ‘Backs are last in the Interior at 4-9-0-1, while the Chiefs are first in the Mainland Division at 9-3-1-1.

The injuries/absences would be enough to test most Junior A teams, but for the Vipers, losers of five straight games, they are devastating. Following Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the host Rivermen at the Langley Events Centre, the Vipers dipped to 3-7-0-4 and are second-last in the Interior Division.

Williamson liked his team’s effort against Langley (6-5-0-2), saying they controlled most of the action. He held a team meeting Monday, urging them to stick with it.

“Good things will come to teams that are persistent, and we’ve just got to be that way.

“You’ve just got to build off the positive things we’ve done. On the weekend we didn’t get any results, but there’s some good things we did and we just have to keep stressing on those. If we do a couple of those little things differently, one of those one-goal games will turn around in our favour.”

Before facing Vernon, the Chiefs must first battle through a Friday night tilt with the Coquitlam Express.

The Mainland division rivals clash for the third time this season. Chilliwack took a 6-3 win the last time they visited the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre on Oct. 5.

The teams battled to a 4-4 draw the next night in a hugely entertaining game at Prospera Centre.

The Chiefs (9-3-1-1) and Express (8-4-1-0) are separated by three points in the tightly packed Mainland division, with Coquitlam holding one game in hand.

If two points in October are just as good as two in February, this is a game the Chiefs won’t want to fritter away.

This weekend marks games four and five on a seven game road stretch for the Chiefs, who won’t be back home until Nov. 7.