Duncan Wray has won four Royal Bank Cup national championships in 22 years as owner of the B.C. Hockey League Vernon Vipers.
He doesn’t need to win a fifth on home ice to know Jason Williamson is his man.
Wray rewarded Williamson with a new two-year contract, making the official announcement at the Snakes’ awards banquet Wednesday night. Willy, as he is affectionately known, is in the final stage of a three-year deal which comes after he guided the Snakes to the Interior Division title with an upset over the Penticton Vees.
The Vipers missed the playoffs his first two years as bench boss, and calls to get rid of him were made on Internet forums and in Hot Stove Leagues around the rink.
“I think the basic thing is he proved this year he can flat out coach,” said Wray, a retired oral surgeon. “A lot of people were critical when the team was losing and not living up to their expectations, but the team was also not playing up to his expectations. People were complaining about what happened in a two-and-a-half hour hockey game and not considering the other 97 hours a week he puts in.
“The viability of this franchise is meeting a budget and he’s been very successful at that, working with Todd (assistant GM Miller).”
Williamson, a 33-year-old with a teaching degree from Niagara Falls University in New York, where he played NCAA hockey for the Purple Eagles, was ecstatic with the extension.
“I’ve always had a really good relationship with Duncan and we discussed things for a while,” said Williamson. “There’s no secret there has been some adversity that myself and my family have gone through, but I think that makes you a better coach. It’s a relief; it’s where I want to be.”
Two more years of security is sweet for Williamson since he has a young daughter and may want to add another child to the stable.
Wray will also welcome back associate coach Kris Mallette, who added a professional dimension to the staff this year.
“I think the players respect him,” said Wray. “He played the game at a high level and he’s very committed to the Vipers.”
Assistant coach Dave Robinson, like Williamson, a former Viper captain, reportedly started to come out of his shell this season, and has the moxy to one day run his own team.
Wray said late in the regular season that he was not going anywhere, and had not been approached by anybody to sell the team. Whispers for years had former Vernon goalie Ken Holland, GM of the Detroit Red Wings, putting together a group to purchase the Vipers.
“I enjoy my function with the league and I’m passionate about this level (of hockey) and I’m proud of the number of kids we send on to higher education,” said Wray. “It’s been so much fun. It’s just something I can’t get rid of. I haven’t figured out how to make an exit.”
I took in some of the Vipers Prospects Camp in mid-April and watched Wray filling a bucket of pucks after a scrimmage.
Wray has also helped do team laundry so obviously is a hands-on owner when it comes to making the little things work. The franchise is well respected for its fine treatment of players.
He loves how Kal Tire looks and is highly appreciative of the 217 volunteers who signed up for RBC duty.
“They are world-class. It continues to blow me away at how many volunteers this community gets for big events like this.”
Wray said the Vipers and the city will receive some sort of legacy after the tournament. As of Friday, ticket sales were at a break-even point. Vernon is a walk-up, last-minute town so fan support will push funds over the top as the week goes on.
New Vernon chamber manager Dan Rogers was host committee co-chair of the 2007 RBC in Prince George.
We were talking about the incredible five-overtime semifinal between the host Spruce Kings and Camrose Kodiaks the other night at oldtimers soccer. The round-robin champion gets to choose between the matinee or evening semifinal, and Prince George took the evening game that year.
The game lasted an RBC record 146 minutes and one second with PG winning 3-2. Spruce King goalie Jordan White recorded 91 saves and the weary Kings lost Sunday’s afternoon final, 3-1, to the Aurora Tigers.
Told Rogers, to the media, in ‘07: “The Aurora Tigers may have won the trophy, but the real winner was the community of Prince George,”
The PG host committee unveiled the legacy plan resulting from RBC revenue, announcing a $90,000 profit, with $50,000 of that going to the five participating teams ($10,000 each), as per the host contract. Another $5,000 went to Hockey Canada’s National Scholarship Program; $15,000 was dedicated to a local legacy program to be managed by the Prince George Community Foundation; and $15,000 went to the Spruce Kings.