The hottest team in the Heritage Junior Hockey League isn’t showing any signs of cooling off.
The Red Deer Vipers racked up their sixth consecutive victory Monday night at the Arena, cruising past the Stettler Lightning 7-0 and moving into first place in the Northern Division, a single point up on the Mountainview Colts.
The Vipers haven’t lost in regulation time in their last nine outings and with just one game remaining on their regular-season schedule, their timing couldn’t be better.
“We’ve been excellent since Christmas,” said head coach JD Morrical. “It’s been really good. The boys had a little refresher over the Christmas break and they’ve really bonded together, even more than they had earlier.”
The Red Deer squad will clinch top spot in the division with a victory over the visiting and sixth-place Ponoka Stampeders Saturday. The Colts also have one game left — Friday at Didsbury versus the fourth-place Blackfalds Wranglers.
“We kind of control our own destiny now,” said Morrical. “We’ll finish first if we win our last game and that was one of our goals at the start of the season. It’s looking pretty good now.”
The Vipers helped closed the gap between themselves and Mountainview by defeating the Colts in each of their last two meetings.
“It was good to get redemption on them (Colts),” said Morrical. “They play pretty much the exact same style we do. It’s rough hockey but it’s pretty structured. That’s a team we could certainly meet in the (division) final.”
More positive news: The Vipers battled the injury bug earlier in the season but are now 100 per cent healthy.
“Right now we have every single player available,” said Morrical.”We have a 25-man roster and with that many guys it’s tough to decide who’s going to play game by game. It makes our (coaches’) job tough and the players are making it hard on us.”
The Vipers led 5-0 after 40 minutes on two goals from Drew Joslin and singles courtesy of Tye Munro, Dustin Spearing and Nick Glackin. Jon Finnigan, with a slapshot from the point, and Kale Lapointe added third-period power-play goals.
The game erupted into a mini-brawl with 2:20 remaining. Three fights broke out — including a scrap between Marc-Antoine Viens and Lightning netminder Taylor McLaughlin — and suspensions will follow.
“I’m sure we’ll have a few suspensions now,” said Morrical.
Red Deer netminder Cole Sears turned aside 16 shots while recording his third shutout of the season. McLaughlin made 35 saves before being banished with a fighting major and game misconduct and his replacement — Travis Green — didn’t face a shot the rest of the way.
• Six teams in the seven-team Northern Division will qualify for the playoffs, with the first- and second-place clubs getting an opening-round bye.