The Vernon Vipers named Jason McKee as their new head coach and general manager. (File photo)

Vernon Vipers GM excited for fans’ return as training camp nears

Kal Tire Place will be open to fans at half-capacity with proof of vaccination required

The Vernon Vipers’ top brass is looking forward to a bit more normalcy in the upcoming B.C. Hockey League season.

Fans will be allowed back into sporting arenas up to 50 per cent capacity with proof of vaccination under Step 3 of B.C.’s Restart plan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed during Monday’s (Sept. 13) COVID-19 update.

Vipers head coach and general manager Jason McKee called having a half-full rink of fans behind the team “a big win.”

McKee said players and staff are eager to get started on a full 54-game schedule after COVID-19 orders led to a truncated ‘Pod Season’ and an Empty Kal Tire Place earlier this year.

“We’re all looking forward to getting back out there,” he said.

Training camp starts Sept. 17 with the Snakes set to start their regular season against Penticton Oct. 8, a month later than usual.

The late start means fewer roster decisions will have to be made, since a shorter list of players than usual (about 35) will make it to training camp.

“A lot of younger players are in school and are set up with their midget teams or wherever they may be as younger players, so it was really tough to bring them out,” McKee said, adding the smaller camp will allow the team to focus on sharpening game habits and details right off the bat.

“Then we’ll start to introduce the structure, the X’s and O’s of how we want to play throughout the training camp and exhibition season.”

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The departure of four 20-year-old players leaves holes up and down the lineup: defensemen Seth Bafaro and Hunter Donohoe, forward Tyler Carpendale and goaltender James Porter Jr. played their final year of age eligibility last season.

Filling those holes in the leadership group will fall heavily on the team’s returning players.

“The expectation is that our returning guys are a little bit older, a little more confident, stronger… they need to take a step,” McKee said.

“I think we’ve got a good mix of new guys coming in and returning players, and I like our group.”

The Vipers will play six pre-season games, all against Pod Season opponents, starting with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Sept. 21.

The organization is also still looking for a few more billet families to house their players throughout the season. Anyone interested in becoming a billet for a Vipers hockey player can contact the Vernon Vipers office (250-542-6022) or email billetcoordinator@vernonvipers.com.

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