By Gary Rennie
Not many would have predicted a playoff series sweep for a team deep with rookies and two new goalies.
But led by two goals from veteran captain Brett Vorshuk, the LaSalle Vipers edged the Sarnia Legionnaires 4-2 Wednesday at the Vollmer Centre to close out the first-round series unbeaten.
“It’s been fun to watch the younger guys and the older guys get continually better (over the season),” said head coach John Nelson. There are still things to improve on, he added, but “I thought we played consistently well over the whole series.”
Cruising uncovered down the slot, rookie Zane Dalpe got the game winner midway through the third period taking a behind-the-back pass from A.J. Ryan that slid through a pack of Sarnia defenders. Defence man Abdul Abouzeeni assisted on the play.
Aaron Shaw opened scoring for the Vipers, assisted by defence man Danny Skinner and Spencer Paradis, just past the mid-way point in the first period.
One-timing a hard shot from the face-off circle, Vorshuk made it 2-0 on a power play less than four minutes later. Jack Bowler made the pass across the slot to set up the play and defence man Dylan Robinson also assisted.
Dalpe’s goal gave the Vipers a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead in the third, but Sarnia’s Blake Butler scored with about 90 seconds left to set up a nerve-wracking finish for fans.
Vorshuk’s empty net goal just 11 seconds later came with Sarnia goalie Nolan DeKoning only half-way to the bench to get the extra attacker out. Defence man Stefan Dobrich and Shaw assisted on the goal.
“We didn’t panic when they had a little pushback (in the third),” said Nelson. “It was a great feeling to close out the series that way.”
Sarnia’s Nolan DeGurse scored just 37 seconds into the third to narrow the Vipers’ lead to 2-1. Sarnia’s Isaac McLean took a slashing penalty with about a minute to go to kill the last chance of a comeback.
Vipers’ goalie Jackson Bernard was at his best early in the first and during a long stretch of the second when the Vipers took three penalties in a row. He stopped 23 of 25 shots.
Bernard won in both home games and Will Tragge got both road wins.
Nelson said it was great for the team to go into the playoffs with both goalies playing well, knowing that back-to-back games or an injury to one aren’t an issue.
“I thought Will and Jackson were both really good in this series,” Nelson said.
In a penalty-filled series, both teams cut the trips to the box in half for game four. LaSalle took six of 11 penalties Wednesday but four of those were in the scoreless second period.
The Vipers continued their domination of the special teams’ battles, converting close to 40 per cent of their power play chances and adding a better than 90 per cent penalty kill through the series.The Vipers outshot Sarnia 33-25 in the final game.
The Vipers won’t know their next playoff opponent until Leamington and Chatham finish their series but won’t have a game for at least five days. London beat St. Thomas 6-2 Wednesday to take that series 4-1.
(To see an album of photos, follow the link to the Vipers’ Facebook page.)