Mark Ferner was shaking players’ hands and having quick one-on-ones in between fast-paced drills Monday afternoon at Kal Tire Place.
The new head coach of the Vernon Vipers didn’t even know who his captain was as he began his second tour of duty with the B.C. Hockey League team.
President and governor Duncan Wray, who hired Ferner in 2007, announced he had done it again earlier Monday after whittling down his short list from five to two. It was perhaps the worst-kept secret in Hot Stove Leagues.
“It’s a unique situation because I don’t know the players and they don’t know who I am or what I’m all about so we’re going to grow together,” said a beaming Ferner, 49, who inherits a young team with 16 new faces.
“It’s gonna be a fun year with some ups and downs. Practice is where we’re gonna get better. We just kept things simple today, but tomorrow, we’re start working on systems and by the time Friday rolls around, we’ll be a better team. I told them we’re going to have some long days here.”
Speculation of a second stint in Vernon — where Ferner led the Vipers to three consecutive Fred Page Cup championships and two consecutive Royal Bank Cup titles between 2007 and 2011 — began on Sept. 8 when Jason Williamson vacated his post as head coach/GM, citing personal reasons.
Walking back into the Viper locker room brought back fond memories for Ferner.
“It’s a special place no question about it. It’s a different feeling when you’re the coach and you walk in the room and address the players. I’m pretty fortunate and certainly very thankful to Duncan and Todd (assistant GM Miller) for making this decision to allow me to come back. I think everyone knows how special it is here.”
Ferner, hired as head coach of the Everett Silvertips in July of 2011 and fired in January of 2013, joined the Kamloops Blazers as an associate coach in August, 2013. He started this WHL season alongside head coach Don Hay.
“I wanna coach,” said Ferner. “The situation in Kamloops was good, it really was, working with Donny. But in all reality, there was no chance of me being a head coach there which I understand and I accepted. Craig Bonner and I had that discussion and he agreed.
“Did I ever think I would be back here two games in the season? No. Am I thrilled about it? Absolutely. Whenever you get an opportunity to come to a place like Vernon that has such a good reputation and one of, if not the best Junior A programs in Canada, and you have a house here too, it made a lot of sense on a lot of different levels.”
Kevin Kraus, a former captain who played under Ferner and began the regular season as interim head coach, quickly answered when asked what he remembers best of Ferner.
“That we respected him as a coach and he respected us as players and he got us to play for him each and every night,” said Kraus. “We (he and assistant Eric Godard) kind of went through the lineup player by player and best described what we think of the guys. He’s obviously going to take this week and assess the players himself.”
Viper alternate captain T.J. Dumonceaux says the early coaching change doesn’t affect the team’s mind-set at all.
“We’re all pretty excited. I’ve been here for three years and I haven’t heard a bad thing about him. I talked to Spares (Viper grad Colton Sparrow), Krauser and my billets and they all said good things about him. It was a good practice today and it’s something to look forward to it. He’s helping us out already, Day 1.”
Ferner played for 18 teams in six different leagues, getting drafted in the 10th round by the Buffalo Sabres in 1983 from the WHL Kamloops Jr. Oilers.
He got in 91 NHL games, including 50 with the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993-94. He played for the likes of Scotty Bowman, Ron Wilson, Terry Murray, Curt Fraser and John Van Boxmeer.
Asked how long his deal with the Vipers was, the laid-back Ferner chuckled.
“I don’t think I signed a contract. He’s (Wray) a man of his word and I trust him. Basically, he said you’ll coach this team as long as I own it, and that’s what he said last time. I’m excited. The people of Kamloops understood fully and they’re happy for me.”
Ferner will face his son, Mac, when the Vipers visit the West Kelowna Warriors Friday night. Mac is a second-year d-man. The Warriors visit Kal Tire Place for a 6 p.m. start Saturday.