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Vipers top Sweden’s U17 squad in shootout

Sunday's game between the Vipers and the Swedish Under-17 team at the Wesbild Centre didn't carry the importance of the Canada-Russia game the previous evening, but it had its own version of high drama. Knotted at 1-1 after 60 minutes, the game was finally decided by Kyle Bigos in a Wild West shootout.

The 2332 fans in attendance were treated to an excellent display of skating, passing, shooting, and goaltending in this free-wheeling contest. And don't forget the hitting! Although the Vipers threw more body checks than their 16-year old opponents, the younger Swedes did not shy away from the contact in any area of the ice. Note also that “younger” did not equate to “smaller” in this squad, most of whom are over 6 feet and 190 pounds.

Just two goals were scored in regulation play. Kellen Jones broke the ice at 2.46 of the second period after a crisp feed from Steve Weinstein, who had picked up a loose puck as he stepped up out of the penalty box and sped into the Swedish zone.

Sebastian Ottoson tied the game in the third period after concerted Swedish pressure. David Rydell and Joel Ostman picked up assists on the play. Both teams had good scoring chances as the period wore down, but Graeme Gordon and the equally impressive Johan Gustafsson were equal to the task. Then, the fun really began.

The shootout was a best of five affair. The first four shooters, Sweden's Adam Pettersson and Mattias Granlund and the Vipers' Mike Collins and Sahir Gill, were unable to score. Then, Sweden's Erik Thorell moved left and ripped a forehand past Gordon. With the pressure on, Kellen Jones calmly equalized for Vernon. Sweden's fourth and fifth shooters, Adam Larsson and Victor Ohman, were stoned on great saves by Gordon. Vernon's next shooters, Bryce Kakoske and Connor Jones, each beat Gustafsson but hit iron.

Ludvig Rensfeldt was denied by Gordon after a big league move, and Braden Pimm tried a spinarama that didn't quite work, setting up the thrilling finish. Gordon made one more fine save, and then Kyle Bigos, dubbed the “Dancing Bear” by his older brother, iced the game with a classic move. He swept right, then left, and neatly lifted a backhand over the sprawling Gustafsson.

The Swedes outshot the Vipers 39 to 29, but the Vipers had the better scoring chances, especially from physical forechecking.

The best Vipers this afternoon were Ryan Santana, the Jones twins, and Kyle Bigos. In addition to the goalie Gustafsson, defencemen Adam Larsson really stood out for the Swedes. He's big (6'2″ and 201 lbs.) and he plays even bigger, with a bit of mean streak. Also, he skates very well for a big kid, he handles the puck like a pro, and he has a heavy shot. Captain Gabriel Landeskog also played a physical game and handled the puck well. Perhaps the smoothest Swede on Sunday afternoon was diminutive D-man Karl Johansson, who displayed pin-point passing and remarkable poise for a 15-year old.

Next up for the Vipers, the Merritt Centennials visit Vernon on Friday, January 9. The goal-challenged Centennials will be hard pressed to match the Vipers, who have allowed just one goal in each of the last four games.