Vipers look ahead to 2016-17

It’s next year already for Mark Ferner and the BCHL Vernon Vipers.

Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner

Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner

It’s next year already for Mark Ferner.

Forty-eight hours after his Vernon Vipers were eliminated from the opening round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs by the Penticton Vees, the head coach and general manager was in his Kal Tire Place office working the phones and beginning to build next season’s squad.

“It never ends,” said Ferner. “We’ve already started our recruiting.”

The Vipers, picked by many to give the defending league champion Vees a run for the Interior Division championship, instead needed to win their final game of the regular season to get into the post-season.

Vernon finished tied for fourth place with the Merritt Centennials with a record of 24-31-3-0, and advanced because of having one more victory than Merritt.

“Were we ready to win this year? Probably not,” said Ferner. “Our cupboards were pretty empty last year. Our goal was to go as far as possible but when you run up against a team like that (Penticton, who was first overall with 50 wins), it’s tough.”

The “cupboards being empty” is a reference to the fact the Vipers had no 20-year-old players to lean on. The five graduating Vipers, including Ferner’s son, Mac, came from outside the organization.

Ferner, Bo Pellah, Latrell Charleson and Ben Butcher were acquired in trades while Andrew Shortridge won the starting goalie job in training camp. He spent last season in the North American Hockey League.

“We didn’t have a 20-year-old that was homegrown, that had been in this organization and knows the expectations and the culture,” said Ferner.

“All five of our 20s never played here before and that hurts. When you bring in older players, you bring in the culture from where they came from and that may not necessarily be the culture we want.”

The Vipers will lose three other players to U.S. college scholarships, including second-year forward Liam Finlay, who has decided to attend the University of Denver a year ahead of schedule.

Joe Sacco is going to the University of New Hampshire and Charlie Michalowski is off to Ivy League school Dartmouth.

Next season, the Vipers have the ability to return 14 players, of which 10 will be 19- or 20-years-old.

“The future is brighter,” said Ferner, who will also have defencemen Carter Stephenson and Chris Jandric (younger brother of forward Steven) on the roster.

The blueline pair played in a number of games for Vernon as call-ups.

“The big thing for me is to make sure we have good people, the character aspect is important,” said Ferner.

“We lose Fin (Finlay) so we’ll have to look for that kind of player. We need some bodies on the back end as well as a goalie so it’s going to be busy and I want to make sure we get the right types of people in here.”

The Vipers will hold a spring camp April 22-24 at Kal Tire Place.

n The league’s best-of-seven divisional finals begin tonight.

In Penticton, the Vees host the West Kelowna Warriors.

The Mainland Division final has the Wenatchee Wild taking on the Chiefs in Chilliwack.

And in Nanaimo, the Clippers entertain the Powell River Kings.

The three winners will then take part in a double round-robin to determine the two Fred Page Cup finalists.