The West Kelowna Warriors pulled three points clear of Vernon in the battle for second spot in the tight Interior Division of the BCHL Friday with a thrilling 5-3 victory over the visiting Vipers.
In a game that had all the elements and feel of a playoff encounter, the Warriors clawed their way back from a 3-1 hole with four straight goals to dump the Vipers before nearly 1,400 raucous fans at Royal LePage Place.
David Pope, Liam Blackburn, Carl Hesler, Tyson Dallman with the eventual game winner and Jordon Masters all scored for the Warriors.
Taki Pantziris added a pair of assists before he was briefly knocked out of the game from a vicious cross check to the back courtesy of Brett Mulcahy which sent the Warriors defenceman straight into the end boards.
It didn't take long for the teams to get a hat on for one another. Skirmishes punctuated many whistles and, after Tyson Dallman delivered a heavy hit near the Vernon blueline in the first period, he goaded Vernon's Liam Coughlin into a 10 minute misconduct when the veteran Vipers forward dropped his stick and gloves to fight while Dallman skated away.
In the dying second of the first after Matty Saharchuk of the Vipers boarded a Warrior into the boards a mini brawl broke out as players paired off all over the ice.
Mac Ferner of the Warriors and Tyler Povolofskie were thrown out for engaging in a fight after another fight had already broken out.
"You had two teams that didn't take long for them to not like each other," says Warriors head coach Rylan Ferster.
"We hadn't played them in a while so you kind of wondered how things were going to start off. But, it didn't take long to get that playoff feel. In playoffs you learn pretty quick not to like the other team and this felt like about a game three or four."
Jared Wilson opened the scoring on a delayed penalty five minutes into the opening period. After David Pope tied it minutes later Wilson notched his second of the period on a Vernon power-play to put the visitors up 2-1.
Colton Sparrow increased the Vernon lead just 23 seconds into the second period.
The Warriors battled back and were finally rewarded when Carl Hesler's shot deflected to Blackburn in front of the Vernon net. Blackburn slid the puck into the empty net to cut the deficit to one.
Three minutes later Helser backhanded a rebound past Danny Todosychuk on a five-on-three power-play to tie things up heading into the third.
The Warriors were handed another lengthy two man advantage after Mulcahy took his cross checking major. The Warriors were unable to score and didn't look dangerous on the remainder of the five minute penalty until Dallman banged home his 12th of the season with just seven seconds left in the penalty.
Masters ended all hope of a Vipers comeback when his blast from the top of the left circle alluded Todosychuk high on the short side.
The Warriors started slowly, possibly the residual affect of Wednesday's emotional 201 win in Penticton.
Ferster though was quick to credit the work of the Vipers in the early going.
"I think you have to give credit to the other side. I don't know if it was we came out flat - I thought we were prepared and w were ready," says Ferster.
"We're playing a pretty good hockey team over there so I think you have to give them some credit. They wanted to come out and set a tone obviously in our building."
Ferster says it was important to just get the two points."
Blackburn, who scored his ninth of the season, says the Warriors got going once they turned up the physical play, especially on the forecheck.
"That circulated a lot more flow for sure," says Blackburn.
"We had a lot more pressure in the second period and it opened up a little bit more."
Blackburn says his goal that made it 3-2 was important to get the team going.
"That changed all the momentum. When you play a team like Vernon - they're a little older, a little stronger, a little more experienced - you need the momentum to go your way. I felt that goal helped us out a little bit."
The Warriors outshot Vernon 43-28 including a 17-5 advantage during the decisive final period.
West Kelowna has now won three in a row and are unbeaten in a club record tying eight in a row.
They are now just five points in back of the division leading Penticton Vees with two games in hand.
The Vees failed to keep pace with the Warriors Friday when they fell 2-1 in Merritt.
The Warriors will try to extend their unbeaten streak to a team record nine straight Sunday afternoon when they host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Face off is 2:30.
The Bulldogs, last in the Island Division, opened their three game interior road swing Friday with a 4-2 win in Salmon Arm.