They really are starting to look like the Vernon Vipers.
With this week’s addition of 6-foot-3 forward Zach McPhee, the Snakes now boast six local players on their roster (Dave Robinson, Bryce Kakoske, Colton Sparrow, Max Mowat and Trevor Fitzgerald are the others).
McPhee, 17, was seeing limited playing time with the WHL Tri-City Americans, and rather than risk stagnating in major junior, he decided the B.C. Hockey League might be a better move for his development.
“I wasn’t playing too much down in the States so I sat down with the coaches and thought out a plan for what would be better for me to get some playing time,” said McPhee, who had one goal in eight game with Tri-City.
Having played his minor hockey in Vernon, McPhee grew up idolizing former Vipers like Dean Strong. His aunt billeted Armstrong’s Matt Waddell and Kelowna’s Kenny Magowan.
He said being from Vernon has helped him understand the culture and what being a Viper is all about.
“It’s definitely pressure, but it’s a pressure that I like. I’m just going to work as hard as I can to get playing time and help the team out,” said McPhee, second in scoring with the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets last season with 39 points in 36 games.
“I just have to take some extra time to go over the systems with the coaches and pay attention in practice and jump into it as quick as I can.”
In recent memory, the Viper squad with the next highest local content was the 2001-02 roster that featured four local boys – David Morelli and Chad Murray, both of Vernon, Waddell and Enderby’s Brad Farynuk.
Knowing owner Duncan Wray’s willingness to bankroll a competitive lineup, these moves are not about saving on billeting or scouting expenses. As head coach/GM Mark Ferner notes, it has more to do with the level of grassroots hockey in Vernon.
“It’s a credit to Vernon Minor Hockey. It’s not like we’ve gone out and scouted these players because they’re local kids. They’re good hockey players and they’re going to help us,” said Ferner.
“The one thing I know that they know is how passionate this town is about this hockey team and the way we want to be. That helps speed up the process, especially when they’re young.”
Helping McPhee’s transition to the Viper den will be former Rocket teammates Mowatt and Sparrow.
Said Sparrow: “The first year we played together we were probably six or seven years old, and pretty much all the way up. He’s been one of my best friends since I was little so, it’s good to have him here.”
Ferner doesn’t know much about McPhee, but likes what he’s read on the scouting report.
“Everything I’ve been told is he’s a big body, skilled guy. And looking at our group, we need a little bit more of that. He’s a centreman, but he can also play the wing.”
With just one week of practice, Ferner said it is too soon to determine where McPhee will fit in the lineup. He will have a better idea when the Vipers entertain the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight at Wesbild Centre.
“This is more about chemistry than anything else, making sure we find the right combination,” he said.
The fourth-place Vipers (14-8-1-6) trail the Smokies (19-9-0-1), who are tied for first with the Penticton Vees (, by four points in the Interior.
“We just got off one of our longer road trips, and I thought it was successful. We didn’t get all the points that we wanted, but our team played pretty well,” said Ferner.
“We’re going to have to be close to our best against a good hockey team. They’re the highest scoring team in our division (3.80 goals for average)… so we’re going to work on some things this week and hopefully we’ll be ready.”
Meanwhile, the Penticton Vees earned a share of first place with a 4-2 win over the Merritt Centennials Wednesday night at South Okanagan Events Centre. Penticton is 19-8-0-1.
In the other BCHL Wednesday nighter, the Nanaimo Clippers stunned the Powell River Kings 6-3, handing the lead-leading Kings (20-5-3-2) their third home loss of the season.
In Tuesday night action, the host Westside Warriors used two goals apiece from Tyler Brickler and Kyle Singleton to bounce the Langley Chiefs 7-3. The Warriors are four points back of Vernon at 14-9-1-2.
SNAKE BITES: Ferner will likely rest injured forward Pat McGillis for another week, saying “We’ve got some healthy bodies here, so we’re not going to inject Patty back in the lineup until he’s 100 per cent.”… The Prince George Spruce Kings have fired long-time head coach Ed Dempsey, replacing him with former Williams Lake Timberwolves bench boss Dave Dupas. The Kings are last in the BCHL at 6-22-0-2.