The Vernon Vipers got older and bigger by signing 20-year-old defenceman Latrell Charleson as a B.C. Hockey League free agent Thursday afternoon.
Charleson played last season for the Surrey Eagles and was suspended indefinitely last February after he collided with, and pushed referee Kirk Wood, from behind at the close of a game against the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Charleson addressed the hit on Twitter last year.
“For those who have seen the video of me running into the ref, I’d like to say it was not intentional and I meant in no way to hurt the ref,” he wrote. “After the game I apologized to the ref and we shook hands. All ended well.”
Said Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner: “He’s a pretty good player. For a big man, he’s got some good hands and he can shoot it a ton.”
The Viper bus picked up Charleson Thursday afternoon as they headed to Port Alberni to start a three-game road trip Friday night against the Bulldogs.
Charleson is a 6-foot-4, 229-pound Surrey product who registered 11 goals and 23 points in 23 games last year with the Eagles.
He produced 5-22-27 with Battlefords North Stars in Saskatchewan the year before and got in 51 games with the Prince George Spruce Kings and Coquitlam Express as an 18-year-old. He’s ready to start a fresh start with Vernon.
“That (referee incident) was kind of a freak thing and I’m trying to put it behind me and keep playing hockey,” said Charleson, who enjoys pick-up hoops. “I’m a big body, physical and I like to get offensively active and use my shot. Hopefully, I can get some good numbers like last season.”
Charleson said he had been renting ice to get in some skating in the hopes of playing his final year of Junior A. He is a big fan of the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville d-man Shea Weber.
The Vipers earlier in the week traded for 20-year-old centre Ben Butcher of the Langley Rivermen. Butcher and Charleson were once teammates in Surrey.
To make room for Butcher and Charleson, the Vipers released winger Zach Andrusiak Thursday morning. The 5-foot-9 Armstrong product had two assists in 11 games.
“That was tough to do,” said Ferner. “If Zach chooses to play Junior B, we would love to AP him and bring him back next year.”
The Vipers are without No. 1 goalie Andrew Shortridge (hip flexor) and were hoping to bring Tavin Grant of the Kamloops Storm on the trip to back up Brendan Barry. Grant, however, was ill, forcing the Vipers to make some urgent calls to Junior B teams on the coast Thursday.
Meanwhile, rookie Jimmy Lambert has committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks for the 2017-18 season.
The Saskatoon product has produced five goals and seven assists for the Vipers in 18 games. The Nanooks have seven BCHL alums on their roster this season, including former Vipers forwards Colton Sparrow and Marcus Basara.