Go somewhere else and play. There is too much pressure in your hometown. The fans will be all over you.
Those are common phrases of advice young Junior A hockey prospects have been hearing since Howie Meeker was a promising defenceman.
Jagger Williamson is entering his fourth season with the BCHL Vernon Vipers and the local product has thrived on home cooking. Of course, he took some ribbing as a rookie when his mom dropped him off at the rink. Everything else has been great.
“You obviously learn to deal with it,” said the Lumby product who played Rep hockey in Vernon. “I kind of feed off it, all my friends from Lumby and Vernon come out and watch; it’s been pretty cool. I seize every moment of it and I’ve loved it.”
Jags, as he is affectionately known, is part of the Viper leadership group and he has some wisdom for the likes of goalie Conor Webb and winger Coleton Bilodeau as they make strong bids to make Mark Ferner’s roster.
“You gotta just enjoy the moment at this stage,” said Williamson, as he watched the two in the Blue-White game Wednesday night. “It’s an awesome experience. That was my goal growing up to play for my hometown city and I’m sure it was the same for them. They both look really good out there and we’ll see what happens.”
Bilodeau, 17, got in 10 games as an affiliate last year so is fairly comfortable around the 13 Viper returnees.
“It’s an honour to even be considered for this team,” said Bilodeau, a WHL Moose Jaw Warrior draft and Vernon minor grad. “There’s a lot of history here and I’m really excited to start the year.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder who wants a college scholarship one day, did have other offers.
“There was interest from out of town, but growing up watching the (Viper) games, it’s tough to play anywhere else, and Mark’s a great coach.”
Bilodeau compiled 58 points and 92 penalty minutes in 37 games with the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets a year ago. The Grade 12 VSS student and big fan of Chicago forward Jonathan Toews, will likely start the season on Vernon’s fourth line.
“I can bring a little bit of everything. I see myself as a two-way player and a versatile player. Whatever Mark wants me to do, I’ll be ready.”
Webb, 18, posted a 3.26 GAA with the Junior B North Okanagan Knights last year and was a key guy with the Junior B Vernon Tigers lacrosse team this season. He’s very laid back and doesn’t have an issue with playing in his hometown.
“I don’t think so,” said Webb, when asked if there was extra stress as a local. “I’m fine with it. You just go out and play every game.”
Blessed with a fast glove and technical skills, Webb is in great shape after running four times a week with the Tigers. The Fulton grad who likes Tuukka Task of the Bruins, is loving the harder shots from Junior A snipers.
“I actually think it’s easier. There’s no wobble on the puck, it just comes straight in, believe it or not.”
Ferner knows all about hometown Junior hockey. He enjoyed home cooking for three years but knows there are negatives and positives that come with the situation.
“It can be tough. I went through it in Kamloops. It’s not easy, it really isn’t. It’s a great thing to have, and maybe the toughest thing is depending on how the team does because they’re here all year with lots of family and friends. So it can be an advantage and a disadvantage.”
Meanwhile, Marcus Mitchell scored on the second shot of double overtime as the Salmon Arm Silverbacks shaded the Vipers 2-1 in exhibition action Friday night at Kal Tire Place.
Defenceman Akito Hirose’s point shot in three-on-three play was stopped by Viper goalie Conor Webb, but Mitchell quickly knocked in the rebound just 56 seconds into the extra session before 600 B.C. Hockey League fans. Rookie Hudson Schandor, 16, drew the secondary assist.
Schandor, who rang up 47 points in 40 Major Midget games with the Vancouver Northwest Giants a last year, fooled Viper netminder Ty Taylor with a shot from the corner as the Silverbacks opened the scoring at 16:58 of the first period. Mitchell earned the helper.
Vernon minor hockey product Nicholas Cherkowski equalized early in the third period with a wrister from the slot past fifth-year veteran Bo Didur. Ryan Brushett and d-man Jack Judson assisted. Didur had seconds earlier made a sprawling stop off TJ Sagissor.
The Vipers outshot the Silverbacks 44-22, including a 14-5 margin in the third period. Webb took over from Taylor midway through the second and finished with eight saves.
Webb made a nice stop on Schandor in the four-on-four OT, the only scoring chance by either team. His finest save came with 4:53 to play in regulation when he rolled on his back to stone Nick Unruh in tight.
Cherkowski later enjoyed another Grade A chance after a nifty pass from the point by d-man Mitch Andres.
Roadrunner Keyvan Mohktari flashed his wheels down the left flank midway through the third period, cutting in tight and just failing to beat Didur short side.
Mohktari played on a line with Jordan Sandhu and Simon Saggisor. Mohktari and Sandhu landed in Vernon in offseason deals with Victoria Grizzlies and Alberni Valley Bulldogs respectively.