It took 49 shots and 60:23 of action for the Vernon Vipers to knock off a resilient Express team 4-3 in overtime Friday night.
The Vipers may not have the talent of the previous two years in which they won back to back Royal Bank Cup National Championships, but they still play a similar puck possession style. The difference for the Vipers from this year to the last two years was an inability to bury their chances.
For most of the game, it was Vernon's puck to do what they wanted. To the credit of the Express, they did well to protect the middle of the ice and try and keep Vernon to the outside.
Luke Hernandez was busy all night and was very sharp long turning aside 45 of 49 shots he faced. The Express goaltender saved some of his best when the Express were under siege during 4 Vernon powerplays. The cliche is you need your best penalty killer to be your goaltender and Hernandez was that for the Express Friday. The support in front of him was strong as well as they watched the Vipers whip the puck around in the Express zone.
Mitchell Deacon returned to the lineup after missing the last 5 games and played a strong gritty game. He opened the scoring taking advantage of a Blake Voth turnover and Deacon wired home his 5th goal of the season. Deacon wasn't afraid to get his nose dirty and be willing to go after Vernon's best players including captain David Robinson.
Robinson evened the score for the Vipers after the Express turned the puck over at the blueline and Robinson buried a pass from Dylan Walchuk.
Just over minute later Massimo Lamacchia in front of his parents tied the game poking home the puck at the side of the Vipers net to restore the Express lead with his team leading 13th goal of the season.
The Express were fortunate to come out of the period with the lead considering Vernon dominated the game with their pace of play.
It was the same story in the second period but the Vipers couldn't get the puck past a strong Luke Hernandez.
Despite a 32-12 shot advantage for Vernon after 2 periods, the Express maintained their lead.
Vernon finally was rewarded for their strong play in the third when Walchuk set up Aaron Hadley in front of the Express net and Hadley tipped it over the glove of Hernandez.
Just under 3 minutes later the Vipers finally grabbed the lead when Todd Skirving beat Hernandez with a wrist shot high to the short side.
Vernon entered the game riding a 3 game losing streak and had just 2 wins in their last 8 games. One problem that had plagued them was blowing 3rd period leads. Vernon hoped their dominance of the play would allow them to clamp the game down and pick up the victory.
The Vipers got a chance to ice the game with a powerplay. But Garrick Perry showed his typical determination and forced a turnover at his own line and he went to the net and buried the breakaway to tie the game. The goal for Perry had to feel good considering he had 2 breakaways in the last 2 home games and he couldn't finish them off.
Click to hear Perry's shorthanded goal
The game remained even through 60 minutes dominated by the Vipers and Luke Hernandez was the main reason the Express got a point.
Entering OT the Express and Vipers had combined for 9 overtime losses this season, Vernon snapped their OT funk just 23 seconds into overtime shortly after Cole Gelley was hauled down in his own zone losing the puck and Bryce Kakoske cut into the slot picked his spot on Hernadez and nailed it giving Vernon the 4-3 OT win.
The better team won the hockey game, but the Express have to thank Luke Hernandez for his strong effort. The Express goaltender has been a little snake bitten recently in his last 3 home games. He has been very strong but just hasn't been able to come out on the winning side of the ledger. Hernandez is seeking his first win since September 29th vs. Surrey.
The Express are back in action as they welcome the Coastal Conference leading Powell River Kings to town Saturday night.