While rumours of an impending sale dissipate, talk around training camp Monday at Kal Tire Place was all about Jagger Williamson.
The major pulse, MVP and captain of the Vernon Vipers will play a fifth season in the B.C. Hockey League and instead join the NCAA Michigan Tech Huskies next season.
“I finally got hold of my coach at Tech and I took a couple of classes finishing last year and History kind of got me,” said Williamson, a centre who was fourth in Snakes’ scoring last year with 18 goals and 53 points. “School-wise, if I had gone there, I wouldn’t be able to play. So we came to the conclusion that I’d stay here, hammer out school and play as I do it.”
Despite taking medication for a bout of shingles which will keep him off of the ice for a few days, the pride of Lumby was his normal upbeat self at the rink.
“I’m excited. The team is looking great. There’s no place I’d rather be than living at home and playing in my hometown. This is a dream. Playing here for five years is such an honour so I’m happy to be back.”
Williamson coached Team Gold to a 4-1 win over head coach Mark Ferner’s Team White in a Monday night scrimmage, showing playoff-type animation in the process.
“He was whooping it up every time they scored or got a chance,” laughed Ferner, a former NHL d-man who feels like he won Lotto Max getting Williamson for an extra year. “Damn rights, he wants to be back. I had him as a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old; he’s the most passionate player I’ve ever had or seen at any level. It’s like having another coach. He’s an unbelievable teammate and an unbelievable person. You can argue he might be one of the best players in the league.”
Williamson, a work of art on the art of work, shadowed league MVP, Jasper Weatherby, as the Vipers took a 2-0 playoff series lead on the Wenatchee Wild last season. Williamson was assessed a controversial goalie interference penalty in Game 3 in Wenatchee, drawing a two-game suspension. Weatherby broke loose as the Wild won the next two games and took the series in six games.
Named Fan Favourite and winner of the Duncan Wray Memorial Trophy and co-winner of the Rienie Holland Memorial Award for community service last season, Williamson is stoked to have linemates Jesse Lansdell and Keyvan Mohtari also returning for their 20-year-old campaigns.
Lansdell, an alternate captain who was fifth in team points with 50, will wait a year before skating for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who had too many left wingers.
“We weren’t really sure where some of our guys were going to be,” said Ferner. “Fortunately for us, Notre Dame had two players who were going to sign pro deals and they didn’t. Disappointed for Jesse, but he’s happy to be back and we’re pretty excited to have him.”
Lansdell, who brings skill, grit and toughness to the table, added major muscle working out at the Vancouver Hockey Factory over the summer. He also made a trip to Disneyland and spent some family time at Shuswap Lake.
“It was kind of an easy decision when the opportunity for me to come up; it was a no-brainer,” said Lansdell, a Langley product. “Another year in this league is nothing but good things. It’s another year of development; it’s not going to hurt me at all. Coming back to a good situation in Vernon made it definitely a lot easier to make my decision of where I wanted to play for my last year of Junior.”
Lansdell noted that all-star Jimmy Lambert was a surprise returnee as a 20-year-old last year and things worked out great for him.
Mohtari, a roadrunner with 14 goals and 30 points last year, will wait a season before pulling on a Colorado College Tigers’ jersey.
“We’re fortunate to have those guys back,” said Ferner. “They play the right way.”
New recruits Teddy Wooding, Nick Wildgrove, Logan Cash and goalie Aidan Porter impressed the coaches on Day 1 with 2002-born d-man Nicholas Ardanaz also getting Ferner’s attention. A total of 60 players are in the camp which finishes Thursday with a Red-Gold scrimmage at 6 p.m. The Vipers open the exhibition season Friday in Merritt against the Centennials. The Cents are here Saturday (6 p.m.)
“I don’t overlook the obvious,” said Ferner. “If you’re good enough, I don’t care if you’re 15 or 16. I don’t care where you came from and I don’t care where you played. You are here to work hard and make our hockey team.”
The Vipers have seven 20-year-olds, one more than the league maximum.
Ferner, meanwhile, is waiting to sign a new contract with owner Libby Wray while speculation around town is that a group of out of town businessmen are bidding on one of the league’s marquee franchises.
“I’m not sure what’s happening,” said Ferner. “All I know is I don’t have a contract.”
The Morning Star sent an e-mail to Wray and is waiting for a reply. Libby retained ownership of the Vipers when her husband Duncan died last January at age 68. Duncan bought the team in 1992, and under his term, Vernon captured four Royal Bank Cup national titles and 12 Interior Division banners. He was like a father-figure to his players.