Scott Allen's power play goal at 5:58 of overtime and Nate Fleming's 3-point effort helped the Spruce Grove Saints to capture game 1 of the 2010 Doyle Cup. In a game that featured 11 goals but never a lead of more than a single goal, the AJHL and BCHL champions duked it out like true heavyweights trying to land a knockout punch.
The Vernon Vipers jumped out to a very early lead scoring on Saints goalie Vincenzo Marozzi just 1:08 into the game. The quick start was like a pail of ice water on the crowd, listed at just 927 people, who were preparing for a hard fought battle between the two top ranked Jr. A teams in Canada.
The visitors dominated the opening 10 minutes of the game thanks to a speedy and ferocious attack led by the team's top line of Sahir Gill and twins Connor and Kellen Jones. That is a dynamite line that Vernon has at their disposal; they move and control the puck like they have rubber magnets on their stick blades, quickly darting around defenders in the offensive zone and cycling the puck seemingly at will. They were by far the team's most dangerous line on this night.
Don't make the mistake of thinking the Vipers are a 1-line team though; they came at Spruce Grove in waves, especially in the first period, but the Gill/Jones/Jones trifecta was especially entertaining to watch.
The teams ended the first period tied after Josh Koper's hard shot somehow beat Vipers goalie Graeme Gordon even though the netminder got most of his blocker on the shot from well out. The puck careened straight down and had enough momentum to bounce and roll into the cage behind Gordon who was well out to cut down the angle against Koper.
Vernon scored early in the second but Spruce Grove carried much of the play in the middle frame scoring twice while out shooting their guests 14-10.
The teams traded third period goals and the final five minutes were a tense affair as Vernon tried to press for the equalizer and the Saints fought to hang onto their 1-goal lead.
The Vernon goal wasn't without some controversy though. Spruce Grove defenceman Tyler Hart was struck directly in the face by a point blast and although he instantly feel to the ice grasping his face, play carried on because the Vipers had control of the puck. Within seconds of the scary incident the puck was behind Marozzi much to the outrage of the crowd.
It's been a while since I was at a game where the crowd really laid into the official but referee John Stevenson definitely heard it from the home fans for the rest of the game. Vernon's power play went 2/7 on the night but was very dangerous all game long and the team scored a late goal to even the score with just over 3 minutes remaining in regulation time.
The Saints had only two power play opportunities to that point in the game so serenaded referee Stevenson for most of the break as the teams rested before a set 10-minute overtime period began.
Early on in the extra session the puck was bouncing all over and the ice looked to be in rough shape. Saints fans were rewarded for their belligerence when Bryce Kakoske was penalized for tripping giving the home side a man advantage in overtime. However, the Vipers were able to kill it off.
Then Connor Jones submarined a Saints defenceman and was called for kneeing giving Spruce another chance and this time they'd make good on the opportunity. Scott Allen's redirection of a Dillon Simpson slap shot on the power play ended the game and sent the hometown fans back to their cars in a good mood.
Nate Fleming was named the game's 1st star, Kellen Connor was 2nd followed by Josh Koper.
This was the second time I'd watched Spruce Grove play in the last week and I found myself more impressed with Simpson tonight than I did in Game 5 against Fort McMurray. At one point in the second period, Vernon had a 2-man advantage and 16-year-old Simpson was one of the blueliners sent out by Saints coach Steve Hamilton - a sign of just how reliable the young rearguard has become.
All in all and entertaining affair with Game 2 set for Saturday night in Spruce Grove. A win for the Saints will send the series to Vernon for the remaining games but should the Vipers even the series then Game 3 will go in Spruce Grove on Sunday.