While strong rumours persist that the Vernon Vipers are about to be sold, Mark Ferner heads to main training camp Monday morning without a contract but ready to start picking his team.
The six-time national Junior A champion Vipers lost their longtime owner Duncan Wray in January when he died in his sleep, at age 68. Wray’s widow, Libby, assumed the ownership and governor’s role. Libby is attending her daughter Erika’s wedding this weekend on Vancouver Island.
Ferner, head coach and director of player personnel, says the uncertainty is hurting his recruiting and the image of the franchise. Speculation around town is that a group of businessmen from out of town has made an offer to purchase the team.
“I don’t know if it’s for sale or not and nobody (coaches and staff) has a contract,” said Ferner. “I’ll be trying to put the best team on the ice but it’s tough because of the uncertainty of the hockey team. I know the Wray family owns the team now, but are they selling? The league says the coaches have to have a contract.”
Deemed one of the best coaches in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League, Ferner has long used his contacts across North America to land top-end talent. The Penticton Vees annually battle the Vipers for some of the same recruits.
“I’ll be at the rink Monday and we’ll take it from there,” said Ferner, unsure if assistant coaches Kevin Kraus or Kevin Pedersen will return because of the turmoil.
Ferner has invited 52 players with the goalie session officially jumpstarting camp at 9:30 a.m. Hour-long defence and forward drills follow with Team Red holding practice from 4-5 p.m. and Team Gold facing Team Blue in a 5:30 p.m. scrimmage.
“We have some solid recruits coming in and they better be good,” said Ferner. “They can come to camp, but they have to work hard and make our hockey club.”
Team Red and Blue will attend an education seminar Tuesday at 9 a.m. while Team Gold practises. Team Red battles Team Blue at 10:30 with Team Gold in class at the same time.
There will be three scrimmages Wednesday starting with Gold vs Blue at 8 a.m.
Camp ends Thursday with morning practices and a Blue-White scrimmage at 6 p.m., followed by exit meetings with the coaches.
The Vipers open the exhibition schedule next Friday in Merritt against the Centennials. Vernon entertains Merritt Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Snakes visit the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Friday, Aug. 31 and host the Gorillas the next night.
Vernon opens the regular season Friday, Sept. 7 against the defending league champion Wenatchee Wild.
Meanwhile, Hockey Canada has named Surrey Eagles head coach Brandon West and Merritt Centennials head coach Joe Martin as assistants with Team Canada West for the 2018 World Junior A Challenge (WJAC).
The event goes Dec. 9-15 at the R.J. Lalonde Arena in Bonnyville, Alta. The team’s head coach will be Rick Swan (Bonnyville Pontiacs, AJHL) who was an assistant on the 2017 squad under Mike Reagan. Martin, who was also an assistant along with Swan last year, and West will both play key roles in Team Canada West’s effort to repeat as gold medalists.