Unhappy with what he witnessed in three games back as head coach/GM of the Vernon Vipers, Mark Ferner has already tinkered with his lineup.
Mark O’Shaughnessy, a 17-year-old left-shooting defenceman from West Vancouver, was sent to the Viper den Monday by the Western Hockey League Kootenay Ice.
Also in town is 6-foot-4, 195-pound left winger Mitch Friesen, 18, who played the last two years with the WHL Kamloops Blazers. The Surrey native had four points in 67 games and played one game in Kamloops this season. He rang up 56 points in major midget as a 15-year-old.
Neither player has been signed yet because Ferner will have to move some regulars to make room on his 22-man roster.
Ferner and assistants Kevin Kraus and Eric Godard ran an extra-long practice Tuesday to push along the Vipers’ conditioning. Vernon lost 4-0 to the West Kelowna Warriors in their home opener Saturday night at Kal Tire Place and then fell 7-4 to the visiting Langley Rivermen in a Sunday matinee.
Ferner held a closed-door team meeting for 20 minutes following the loss to Langley before holding discussions with a few players.
“I told them these three games (Vipers iced the Warriors 4-1 Friday night on the road) were about assessing and getting to know them and seeing where we’re at,” said Ferner.
“We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of change, but I don’t care what you did last year. We have a system we want followed, but if you don’t have conditioning, you can’t do any of that. Structurally, we’re not very good.”
The Rivermen came in 0-2 with a full week of practice and rest, went 2-for-4 on the powerplay and got a couple of lucky bounces for the win before 1,300 fans.
Brendan Gulka pocketed 2+1 for the Rivermen, while Will Cook and NHL prospect Marcus Vela each recorded 1+2 and other goals came from Gage Torrel, Jacob Zeleznikar and captain Kevin (Killer) Kilistoff.
Riley Brandt, on a one-timer from the low slot after a feed by Branden Wagner, Thomas Aldworth, on a sweet breakaway snipe, Mackenzie Bauer, with his third of the season on a backhander, and Liam Coughlin, with a tap in after a gorgeous pass from Jagger Williamson, replied for the Vipers (2-2-0-1).
Bauer levelled the score at 3-3 early in the third before Gulka bounced a shot from behind the net off goalie Jarrod Schamerhorn and in for the lead.
Coughlin made it 4-4 39 seconds later before Gulka again gave Langley a one-goal advantage. Cook then waltzed through the Viper zone, untouched, going backhand top cheese. Vela added an empty netter with 13 seconds to play.
On the weekend, Viper alternate captain Ken Citron said: “We had a good first game in West Kelowna. We were playing hard, we were playing the systems well, doing all the right things. We were working hard in our own end which pays off when you get goals in the other end if you keep them off the board. In those two other games, that work ethic that made us successful just wasn’t there and it’s unacceptable.”
Citron wasn’t blaming the losses on youth – the Snakes had 10 rookies playing.
“It falls on the leadership group. It’s not just the rookies. Those guys are working hard. As a leader, you feel the load on your shoulders to show the younger guys what they need to be doing. We wanna crank that up a little bit. We got a couple of guys out of the lineup coming back soon and hopefully that helps a bit.”
Citron believes good teams create their own luck and feels the Vipers didn’t sweat enough to buy a break.
“They’ve (Langley) got a big, physical team. If we had used our speed a little more, we could have exposed them a bit.”
Said Langley head coach Bobby Henderson, who also dressed 10 freshman: “I give Vernon a lot of credit, they played a heckuva game for their third game in three nights. They had pretty good legs all the way through it and we were just opportunistic to capitalize on our chances.”
The Rivermen, who only had to kill three penalties, topped the BCHL last year before being upset by the eventual Fred Page Cup champion Coquitlam Express.
“All in all, we like our team,” said Henderson. “We think we’re pretty well balanced. We obviously have to clean up in some areas, but it’s early. We’re happy with the two points.”
Added Kilistoff: “It was a good road game for us. Vernon was coming off two games straight and we had fresh legs going in. We played hard, Vernon played hard back and we just ended up coming with the win.”
Jordan Masters scored twice as the Warriors shut out the Vipers 4-0 Saturday night before 1,770 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Masters, a 20-year-old New Yorker, converted twice within 2:28 late in the first period. He bolted out of the penalty box and after some confusion between the Viper defence and goalie Danny Todoyschuk, buried the puck into an empty net for his first goal. Liam Blackburn and Jason Cotton drew assists.
Masters then clicked on the powerplay just 33 seconds into a hooking penalty by Vernon defenceman Mitchell Oliver.
Brett Mennear neatly deflected a point shot by Mac Ferner to make it 3-0 Warriors at 5:55 of the second period. Kylar Hope added further insurance three minutes later as the 3-1 Warriors enjoyed a 5-on-3 powerplay with Linden Hora and Anthony Latina in the box.
The Vipers switched to Schamerhorn for the start of the third period, but that moved failed to ignite any offensive push although Vernon outshot West Kelowna 8-3 in the final 20 minutes.
Vernon visits the 3-1 Merritt Centennials Friday night and hosts the 1-3 Cowichan Valley Capitals Saturday night. The Cents grounded the Penticton Vees 5-0 Saturday in Merritt.