The Mountainview Colts were snake-bit Monday night at the Arena.
Riding high atop the Northern Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey League, the Colts coughed up two third-period goals and fell 4-3 to the Red Deer Vipers, who took over second spot in the division — one point ahead of the Airdrie Lightning — and closed to within four points of Mountainview.
“Our philosophy right now is kind of take it one game at a time,” said Red Deer assistant coach Kaare Odegard, outside of a jubilant Vipers dressing room. “We have a game in hand on those guys (Colts). That’s a four-point win and obviously we’re happy with the victory.
“We’ll just try and build off of it. We have another big game Thursday (versus visiting Airdrie) so we’ll enjoy this one tonight and then get ready for the next one.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for the 19-8-3 Vipers, who are on the upswing after registering their fourth consecutive win Monday.
“We’ve faced a little adversity. We haven’t been on the top of the league, we’ve been scratching and clawing for every win and I think that builds character,” said Odegard.
“Down the stretch, that’s going to help us.”
Colton Weseen, who entered Monday’s outing with 43 points, including 25 goals, is the Vipers’ top scorer. Fellow forwards Nick Glackin, Matt Krusky and Kale Lapointe are other go-to players, as are defencemen Conner Veroba and Jonathan Finnigan.
Rookie forwards Declan Johnston, Dustin Spearing and Drew Joslin have also chipped in offensively, while the Vipers’ goaltenders have stood the test of time. Rylan Bardick, Mack Patchett and recently-acquired Cole Sears guard the Red Deer net.
“We’ve picked up a few guys down the stretch and that just adds depth to our club,” said Odegard. “Obviously (Sears) has been playing well for us. We have one goalie (Bardick) down with an injury right now and another one (Patchett) stood on his head last night and stole two points for us (making 26 saves in a 2-1 win over host Banff Academy).
“Everyone is adding value and it’s been fun to watch.”
Sears was in the Red Deer goal Monday and turned aside 29 shots.
“We’re satisfied with our goaltending and I think it stems from keeping things simple in the defensive zone,” said Odegard. “We’ve only been outshot twice this year. When we limit pucks going to our net it limits scoring chances. Our goalies have played well and have stolen games when we’ve needed them to.”
Down 3-2 after 40 minutes, the Vipers got unanswered third-period markers from Anthony Neurauter and Avery Weenink to pull out the win. Lapointe and Veroba scored earlier goals for the hosts, who fired 35 shots at Colts netminder Jake Carlson.
Regardless of what transpires over the remainder of the regular season and through the playoffs, the Vipers know they’re going to be playing in April as hosts of the provincial junior B championship tournament.
But Odegard and the rest of the coaching staff, including head man JD Morrical and assistant Jared Brookes, don’t want the players thinking that way.
“We know we’re the hosts, but that means nothing if you can’t win your way there,” said Odegard. “You don’t want to be the guy who shows up just because your’e hosting.
“We’re looking to put ourselves in the top two in standings, get that first-round bye and keep building.”