Prior to the start of the 2014-15 Heritage Junior B Hockey League season, new Red Deer Vipers head coach JD Morrical called out the leadership on his team.
He wanted them to take on the role full-heartedly.
At least for one weekend, they did just that.
It was far from pretty, but the Red Deer Vipers found a way to get a split out of the opening weekend.
After losing 4-0 to the defending four time league champion Okotoks Bisons in Okotoks on Friday, they rallied to beat the Airdrie Thunder 6-5 in overtime on Saturday at the Red Deer Arena, thanks to a five-point night from captain Justin Corbett.
“When he plays like that, there’s not many players that can beat him,” said Cote of Corbett. “If he plays like that every night we won’t lose many hockey games, it’s nice to see because the boys follow him.”
It was a challenge heard and accepted by those wearing letters.
“We’re just trying to stay positive on the bench,” said assistant captain Colton Weseen. “If it’s a big moment out there, you need to win a big draw, you need to make a big hit, you just go out and do it, do whatever you can to get the win.”
Corbett scored two goals and added three assists on Saturday while line mate Cole deGraaf scored twice, including the OT winner, and added an assist to pace the Vipers. Nick Glackin and Justin Spearing also scored for Red Deer while 16-year-old Lane Congdon made 29 saves in his first career start and win.
Airdrie responded with two goals from Aidan Crowther and single markers from Liam Wise, Ryan Zeniuk and Tyler Perkins. Kade Taplin stopped 36 of 42 shots in the loss.
The two teams traded goals all night, and all but three of them were scored on the power play. They went into the third period tied at 3-3, and that’s when it really got crazy.
DeGraaf and Corbett scored on the power play at 7:17 and 9:05, respectively, and the Vipers continued to lean on the Thunder. The game was in their control Justin Van Tetering — one of Red Deer’s top penalty killers — was whistled for roughing at 15:27. Then at 17:02, Vipers rookie Mathew Thiessen was called for charging, giving the Thunder a two-man advantage.
The took full advantage as Wiese snapped home a shot through a crowd to make the score 5-4, and 21 seconds later, Crowther tied it up and the game went to overtime.
Red Deer killed off a penalty to start the extra four-on-four period, but was then given their own power play at 3:04 with Mark Kunitz off for hooking. At 3:22 deGraaf fired a rebound into the open net.
“We’d been playing really good the whole third period, so we weren’t really worried about it, we knew we could get it done,” said deGraaf. “We didn’t want to start the season 0-2, this is a team we’re going to be playing a lot this year, so we wanted to send them a message and let them know that we’re going to come to play every time and they’re not going to beat us.”
The head coach was impressed with his team’s resiliency in both games, but he’d prefer them to be front-runners.
“The thing I love and hate about this team is they battle back like crazy as soon as they’re down, but I say it that way because I don’t think they should ever be down,” said Cote. “They’re too good to be losing to certain teams in this league.”
The Vipers now head out on the road for the next two weeks, including in Medicine Hat on Saturday against the Cubs at 7:45 p.m.
• Red Deer was 5-for6 on the power play, Airdrie was 3-for10 … Brooker Pretty Youngman, Connor Tudor, Bryce Honish and Mark McLeod scored for the Bisons in their 4-0 win on Friday as goalie Alex Bilton stopped all 49 shots he faced. Klay Munro stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced in the Vipers’ net.