Andrew Shortridge

Andrew Shortridge

Vipers rate third-place ranking

Black Press sportswriters are picking the defending BCHL champion Penticton Vees to win the Interior Conference.

Colton McCarthy is unpredictable, fearless, tougher than a dollar-store steak, a consummate teammate and a complete 200-foot hockey player who commands respect.

You have just met the new captain of the B.C. Hockey League’s Vernon Vipers. McCarthy, 19, was chosen in a players’ vote and the alternates are Riley Brandt, Liam Finlay and Mac Ferner.

The Vipers open the 54th BCHL season tonight against the Trail Smoke Eaters at Kal Tire Place.

“He’s a competitior,” said Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner. “He comes by it honestly; it’s his nature. He didn’t say much in the dressing room last year, but he’s come out of his shell and he wants a leadership role. He’s been showing the younger guys how to do things.”

McCarthy, who rang up 25 points and 62 penalty minutes in just 35 games last year, actually found out he was captain Thursday morning through a phone message from The Morning Star.

“I just went to the gym and haven’t been to the rink so I guess there goes the surprise,” chuckled McCarthy, a Salmon Arm product. “I’m honoured for sure. I was an assistant growing up in minor hockey, but never a captain.

“I’m going to bring some leadership. I’ve been around some great captains and know what it takes to make the guys feel comfortable in the room and I also want to represent the community as a Viper. Kendall McFall in Moose Jaw was one of the best captains in the WHL and last year, Riley Guenther was a great captain with us.”

The Vipers will open the season carrying 11 forwards and eight defenceman. Ferner trimmed the roster Wednesday by trading forwards Linden Hora and Tak Anholt to the Chilliwack Chiefs for highly touted d-man Darren Rizzolo. They also released second-year F Blaine Caton. F Michael Roberts is in camp but not carded.

Black Press sportswriters are picking the Penticton Vees, – ranked No. 1 in the CJAHL pre-season poll – to win the Interior Conference. Let the games begin.

1. Penticton Vees

Key Returnees: F Tyson Jost (23-22-45) is projected as an NHL first-round pick next summer, Demico Hannoun (23-18-41), D Gabe Bast (9-31-40), Dante Fabbro (4-29-33), G Brendan Barry (10-2-0), 2.06 GAA, .912 save percentage.

Rookie Sensations: F Owen Sillinger, 17, chose to play for Penticton after receiving heavy interest from Junior A teams such as the Vipers and major junior. Sillinger captained the Regina Pat Canadians to a bronze medal at the Telus Cup Midget national championship in April. Sillinger was the Telus Cup MVP, top scorer and top forward with six goals and 17 points in seven games. Sillinger is the son of former NHLer Mike Sillinger, director of player development for the Edmonton Oilers. Easton Brodzinski played three years of high school hockey in Blaine, MN., and recorded 72 points in 80 games. He brings size (listed at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and skill. D Sam Jones, 17, born in England and living in Penticton for the last five years, put up 31 points in 28 games for the Okanagan Hockey Academy Prep Red.

Strengths: Early in training camp, the Vees displayed their speed and skill. Captain Jost feels this group is a step ahead of last year’s league championship squad. The Vees will be led by Jost and Fabbro. “Fabbro is a smooth skating, smart, offensive defenceman,” said NHL Central Scouting’s John Williams on in July.

Coach’s quote (Fred Harbinson): “We have always been built on the tempo that we play. I think this year is no different. We have some guys that can push back. The one other thing we saw in the preseason and hopefully it continues on, is our powerplay was better. If they want to go over the line, then we will be able to hurt them on the power-play, that is what we’re hoping for.”

2. Salmon Arm Silverbacks

Key Returnees: F Taro Hirose (18-32-50), Carson Bolduc (19-25-44), Josh Blanchard (17-22-39), Ross Heidt (16-16-32), Colton Thibault of Vernon (12-14-26) and Josh Laframboise (12-10-22). D Phil Middleton (8-17-25, 47 PIM), Damian Chrcek (1-10-11, 42 PIM). G Angus Redmond (24-22-3, 2.72 GAA, .910 save percentage.

Rookie Sensations: F Cam Coutre, 17, helped the Major Midget South Island Royals to the semifinals. Coutre racked up 17 goals and 40 points in 36 games. Coutre counted four points in eight call-ups with the Silverback last year. The team’s youngest player, Marcus Mitchell, 16, cracked the BCMML’s top-20 points table with 22 goals and 46 points.

Strengths: The Silverbacks’ strength starts in goal with Angus Redmond, last year’s league leader with five shutouts. The return of 14 players should bring leadership, maturity and stability. GM Troy Mick worked hard to bolster the blue line with the addition of two sizeable and experienced d-men in Aiden Salerno and Brett Stewart.

Coach’s quote (Brandon West): “We have a team of 22 leaders that can compete with any team in the league. We are big, fast, strong and posses a high skill set that will translate to us being better in the corners and in front of the net where it counts.”

3. Vernon Vipers

Key Returnees: Finlay is a dynamo who amassed a team-high 23 goals and 64 points after being dealt to Vernon from Penticton early last year. F Jagger Williamson was the youngest player on the Snakes’ roster last year and put up 8-20-28 as a 16-year-old. McCarthy (10-15-25) and Brandt (14-9-23) play with a wicked edge and can bring offence as well. Smooth D Mitchell Oliver (1-6-7) is the only d-man back. G Jarrod Schamerhorn (24-12-1, 2.71 GAA) was solid.

Rookie Sensations: Ultra-skilled centre Peter Tufto, a finalist for Mr. Hockey in Minnesota last year after ringing up 27 goals and 63 points with St. Thomas Academy. Tufto, 18, will play alongside his clone, Finlay. RW Jimmy Lambert, 18, pocketed 21 goals and 56 points with the Major Midget Saskatoon Contacts last year. “He was part of the best line in Saskatchewan with (former NHLer) Rich Pilon’s kid, Garrett, and Kole Lind,” said Ferner. The unit racked up 222 points. Joe Sacco Jr. of Boston is a gritty 19-year-old who skates and shoots well. Sacco, whose father is an assistant coach with the NHL Bruins, supplied 22 goals with The Rivers School Red Wings of the U.S. High School league. C Joey Cipollone of Purchase, N.Y.,  amassed 51 points in 24 games with Harrison Select Hockey Academy and has locked up a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. F Steven Jandric, 18, of Prince George, produced 18 goals and 54 points with the Major Midget Cariboo Cougars. He scored once in six call-ups with the Silverbacks. Austin Cho (12G and 64 points with St. Andrew’s College Saints in Auora, Ont.) should excel. “Austin is a slick defender who is a smooth, calming player,” said Ferner. “He’ll be a big part of our group, no question. He has a scholarship to RPI for 2017.”

Strengths: The Vipers will start with a pair of 20-year-old net detectives with Alaskan Andrew Shortridge new to the club. Shortridge had a 2.57 average with the NAHL Aberdeen Wings in South Dakota last season and was strong in the Vipers’ exhibition series. Ferner has won two Royal Bank Cups and lost another in the final with Vernon. A 19-year pro d-man, he has also coached at the Major Junior level and is an excellent teacher who commands respect. D Bo Pellah, a BCHL all-star and NHL-rated player a few years ago, will excite fans with wheels and puck-handling magic.

4. West Kelowna Warriors

Key Returnees: F Liam Blackburn (22-51-73),  F Jonathan Desbiens (27-27-54), F Kylar Hope (11-9-20), D Kristian Blumenschein (7-35-42) F/D Kyle Marino (3-15-18), D Rylan Yaremko (4-13-17), F Brett Mennear (11-14-25) and F Garret Forster (17-28-45) who is new to the Warriors but was one of the Victoria Grizzlies’ top producers last season.

Rookie Sensations: The Warriors have high hopes for D Jake Harrison (7-13-20), 16, a West Kelowna product who played with POE in Kelowna last season. F Connor Sodergren (14-24-38) and F Quinn Forman (5-5-10) are both from Massachusetts, while F Reid Gunville (20-32-52) hails from Prince Albert. The three were effective playing on a line together in pre-season. G Daniel Manella (2.08 GAA, .927 save percentage) had a strong season of Junior A in Oakville, while G Forbes Polszay (2.67 GAA, .914 save percentage), from Arizona, played in three locales last season, including the Colorado Rampage U18s.

Strengths: The Warriors have a good core of veteran leaders, led by the team’s top scorer, Liam Blackburn, and newly-appointed captain Kyle Marino. As has been the case with Warriors’ teams of recent years, a persistent, workmanlike approach will be the key to success.

Coach’s quote (Rylan Ferster): “We like the character that we have coming back. We’re fortunate to be bringing back some pretty key players, (Liam) Blackburn, (Jonathan) Desbiens, and (Kylar) Hope, and we’ve got some really good leadership with guys like our captain, Kyle Marino, and Rylan Yaremko. This (Interior) division is going to be tough again and I think you’ll see two really good teams missing the playoffs.”

5. Merritt Centennials

Key Returnees: F Gavin Gould (24-35-59), F Colin Grannary (19-20-39), F Nick Fidanza (10-7-17), F Zak Bowles (11-14-25), D Malik Kaila (1-3-4), D Cole Arcuri (1-11-12), D Tyrell Buckley (0-6-6), G Anthony Pupplo (13-13-0).

Rookie Sensations: With only eight returnees, new head coach and GM Joe Martin and his predecessor Luke Pierce found some gems in Americans Michael Faulkner (1996 birthdate), Nick Fiorentino (96), Nick Jermain (96) and Ryan Finnegan (97) along with homegrown talent Michael Regush (98), Tyler Wickman (98) and Colten Lancaster (98). D-men Faulkner and Fiorentino, both from New York State, cut their teeth in East Coast hockey. Faulkner starred at Brunswick Prep School in the USHS, while Fiorentino (who has committed to Army) suited up the last two seasons for the New Jersey Rockets of the EHL. Up front, Connecticut’s Jermain put up some impressive numbers with his home-state Oilers of the EHL (11-25-36 in 38 games), while Kansas-born, Quinnipiac-bound Finnegan lit it up for the Baltimore Skipjacks of the USPHL with 17 goals and 20 assists in just 23 games. Surrey’s Regush was a proven scorer with the Delta Hockey Academy last season (17-16-33); he recently committed to Cornell. Wickman had a great year on defence with the Yale Academy in Abbotsford in 2014-15, as did big-bodied netminder Lancaster with the Pursuit of Excellence in Kelowna. This year’s unheralded sleeper could be 16-year-old Tyler Ward from Kamloops.

Strengths: With 14 new faces in the lineup, it’s going to take some time for the Cents to gel. Their pre-season demonstrated that this year’s team has the firepower and speed to be competitive in the tough Interior division, while newcomers Faulkner and Fiorentino look like good additions to a blueline anchored by a healthy Kaila and Arcuri. Between the pipes, time will tell if the Pupplo-Lancaster tandem are up to the task of leading the Cents to glory in the post-Pierce era. Coach Martin will be capably assisted by new second-in-command Matt Samson, who led the North Van Wolfpack to a PIJHL title last season.

Coach’s Quote (Joe Martin): “We’re very excited to be beginning our 43rd season in the elite Interior division of the BCHL. With a new head coach in myself, with a new assistant coach in Matt, and a large number of first-year players, we have a significent challenge ahead to prove ourselves in the league this year. Our small group of veteran players will be called upon to take on much larger roles than they have had in the past. I see it as a new beginning, and a tremendous opportunity for all of us to put our stamp on the team’s future successes.”

6. Trail Smoke Eaters

Key Returnees: F Harlan Orr (18-17-35), Max Newton (9-15-24), Kienan Scott (15-8-23), Cooper Leitch (7-8-15), Conner Brown-Maloski (8-6-14). D Jeremy Lucchini (1-12-13, 25 PIM), Evan MacEachern (3-21-24, 29 PIM), Ryan Swanson (5-19-24, 46 PIM), and Dexter McLeod (1-12-13, 35 PIM).

Rookie Sensations: Imports Nick Halloran, an 18-year-old Air Force commit from Draper, Utah and Army commit John Laurito, 19, from Johnston, RI, join the Smoke Eaters with speed to burn and a nice touch around the net. Kale Howarth, 18, from Red Deer was a surprise in camp as he cracked the lineup as a virtual unknown, and combines size and skill reminiscent of a Dallas Calvin. Hometown additions Spencer McLean of Montrose and Ross Armour from Rossland were in the top three in scoring for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks as 16-year-olds last year and will be major contributors this season.

Strengths: The Smoke Eaters’ strength is spread over its four balanced lines. With a strong work ethic, speed, quick puck movement, and an aggressive forecheck, Trail has the ability to force the play and score throughout the lineup. Also, the acquisition of highly touted netminders Bailey Macburnie, 20, from Beverly, Mass. and 6-foot-3 Linden Marshall, 17, from Victoria should provide solid and consistent goaltending.

Coaches Quote: (Nick Deschenes): “There are some real bright spots, and some good moments, but now it’s a level playing field. We have our 22 guys, everyone has their 22 guys, we have to figure out how well we can get our 22 to play and how far we can take the group.”

Contributors: Jim Bailey in Trail, Evan Buhler in Salmon Arm, Warren Henderson in West Kelowna, Ian Webster in Merritt, Emanuel Sequeira in Penticton and Kevin Mitchell in Vernon.