Peter Tufto of the Vernon Vipers

Peter Tufto of the Vernon Vipers

Vipers show sign of grit, skill

Mark Ferner blew the whistle to stop a puck support drill Monday afternoon at Kal Tire Place.

Mark Ferner blew the whistle to stop a puck support drill Monday afternoon at Kal Tire Place. He sternly reminded his players that a bust-yer-butt backcheck is a must in his system.

The former NHL defenceman, who turns 50 Saturday when the Vipers host the Prince George Spruce Kings in B.C. Hockey League exhibition play, stresses conditioning early in every training camp.

He caught some players taking shortcuts in Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks and kindly clued them into what works when you work.

“It’s all about the process and systems, not the results right now,” said Ferner, who went over defensive and neutral zone play in the video room Monday. “It’s all about teaching. If there’s no teaching, there’s no learning.”

The Vipers will take 24 skaters and three goalies to Prince George for a Friday night pre-season tilt and cut down further after Saturday.

Released Monday morning were St. Albert F Ryan Cooper, D Nick Higgs of Vernon, F Jordan Robinson of the Okanagan Hockey Academy and F Zach Sullivan of Boston.

“We made four more cuts today, some young kids,” said Ferner. “We wanted to make sure we got them in at least one exhibition game. Three of the boys are ‘99s so I think they enjoyed the experience and hopefully they can take what they learned here back to their team. We’d love to AP all three of them. The other boy, Zach Sullivan, is a Boston product. We have a good relationship with that school, Catholic Memorial. He was good, but it was just a matter of numbers.”

The Vipers iced a young lineup Friday night at the Shaw Centre and it showed as the Snakes were hemmed in their own end most of the night. Ferner felt some Silverbacks took liberties with his players and has filed that memory.

“Salmon Arm took it to us. They dressed an older group, I think 13 players 19 or 20. And I get it, I understand it. In the second game, we came out slow again in the first and they heard about it a little. We have to get out of the training camp mode and play a more bit of a physical and effort game and I think the kids responded.”

Said Salmon Arm head coach Brandon West:  “The boys competed at a very high level tonight, which is what we want to see. It’s always exciting to play against Vernon, There was a lot of chippy play throughout the majority of the game, and things got out of hand at the end of the game. I’m glad to see no one got hurt.”

Josh Blanchard, Colton Thibault (Vernon product) Nick Hutchison, Aaron Aragon, Sam De Melo and Josh Laframboise handled the Gorillas’ offence Friday night, while Callum Volpe replied for the Snakes. D-man Ryley Booth (Armstrong) pocketed three helpers for the Silverbacks.

Hutchison (2G) went back door from Marcus Mitchell and Cameron Trott at 3:02 of OT Saturday night in Vernon. Cam Coutre and Brett Stewart, with the late 3-3 equalizer, completed the Salmon Arm attack in front of Angus Redmond.

Peter Tufto, Jimmy Lambert and Liam Finlay answered for the Vipers. Finlay buried a sweet pass from Tufto to give the Vipers their only lead of the night.

Finlay led the Vipers with 23 snipes and 64 points last season and will have to increase those numbers since Vernon lost half their offence (103 goals) with Liam Coughlin, Thomas Aldworth, Anthony Latina and TJ Dumonceau moving on.

“We’re really skilled,” said Finlay, who was overlooked in the NHL entry draft. “We are a little bit young, but we have a lot of grit, too, and we have a good mix which will help us do well.”

Finlay spent most of summer training, hanging out with friends and playing hockey in West Kelowna and at the Capital News Centre in Kelowna with loads of NHLers like Shea Weber, Cody Franson and Curtis Lazar.

“It was nice skating with them and seeing how they get ready and stuff for little games and how they handled themselves around other people.”

Disturbance specialist Riley Brandt, who will get serious consideration when the Viper choose their captains, likes the early look of the Snakes.

“We’ve got a young squad this year for sure; we’ve got a lot of young talent back there,” said Brandt, who played third base and catcher in Trail this summer. “So far, everbody’s done pretty good in camp. Too bad we lost those exhibition games, but I thought we did well in the second game.”

Brandt, who crashed the net for 14 snipes last year after leaving the Smoke Eaters, says things are slowly coming together.

“We have a lot of small kids, but they have quick feet and they work hard. The veterans are trying to get the new guys comfortable with the Junior A ways and Vernon. Hopefully, they’ll settle in pretty quick here. I love it here and I can’t wait for the season to get going.”

As for naming his captains, Ferner said: “Once we get down to our group. we’ll have a vote. It’s not my captain, he’s their captain. He’s gonna be the guy who translates all the information to me and we’ll go from there. We’ve got a good group in there; we’ve got our eye on a few guys. That was one of the concerns, possibily, not that we don’t have any leadership capabilities in there, but I’m not sure any of them have been a captain, much like Riley Guenther last year. I believe captains are built, they’re not born.”

SNAKE BITES: Andrew Shortridge stopped all 22 Silverbacks shots, while rookie Joseph McLeod (West Kelowna) gave up four goals on 22 shots. Redmond recorded 40 saves…D Matt Halvorson and F Michael Roberts, both of Vernon, are still in camp…Higgs joined the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies, who iced the North Okanagan Knights 6-0 in exhibition play Monday night at Kal Tire Place…D Reece Soukoroff of Calgary is the son of Phil Soukoroff (1987-88 with Vernon Lakers and then four years with the University of Northern Michigan Wildcats)… The Edinburgh Capitals of Scotland have made hard-hitting American D Kyle Bigos (Vipers 2007-09) their ninth import signing ahead of the new Elite League season. Bigos, a former Edmonton Oilers draft pick, arrives fresh from a solid year with Ontario Reign of the ECHL, where, as a teammate of another of Edinburgh’s new faces, Everett Sheen, he picked up one goal and 14 assists in 62 games…Latina will play for the University of New Brunswick Reds in the CIS this season…Vernon’s Ernie Gare has retired after a lengthy career as a full-time scout with the New York Rangers. Ernie’s oldest son, Lanny, helped the Vipers win the 1999 Royal Bank Cup with 46 goals and 111 points on a dynamic line with future NHLer Ryan Bayda and Tyler Knight. Ernie led the Vernon Essos and the BCJHL with 50 goals and 133 points in the 1971-72 season. He and linemate John Price, who also had 54 goals and 133 points in one extra game, both made the league’s first all-star team…West Kelowna Warriors games can be heard this season live via the Internet on MIXLR, dubbed WIN for Warriors Internet Network. Vernon’s Kyle Anderson will provide play-by-play coverage of all 58 regular season games, plus playoffs…The Warriors fell behind 9-2 before falling 9-7 to the Smokies Saturday night in Trail… The Spruce Kings acquired 19 year old D Adam Burnett from The Ancaster Avalanche of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League for future considerations.