On any given puck battle, Riley Hunt will give up about six inches and 30 pounds to the average B.C. Hockey Leaguer.
If he’s going to succeed, the 5-foot-5, 155-pound Vernon Viper rookie knows he will have to rely on the quickness and innate hockey sense that earned him an NCAA Division 1 scholarship with the Harvard Crimson at just 16-years-old.
“I have to make some adjustments. I’ve been playing minor hockey my whole life. I’ve never been in this atmosphere where there’s 20-year-olds out there. Big guys. I can’t just go running them over any more,” said the well-spoken Hunt.
Originally destined to play junior B with his hometown KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies, the 1995-born forward landed in the Vipers’ den, partially as a result of a new league edict requiring each team to carry a 16-year-old on its roster. Despite the mandate, head coach Jason Williamson says Hunt is making a case to crack Vernon’s 21-man roster on his own merit.
“He plays the game the right way; he plays hard and he’s got some skill. You don’t like to think he’s got a guaranteed spot, but he does because he’s our 16-year-old. But the way he’s played he’s been one of the top forwards and he’s deserved to be here,” said Williamson.
“We know his size could be a little bit of a factor, but he’s a smart player. There’s been some guys that were smaller in this league that have done very well, and if you look at the way the game is going, it’s all about speed and being able to play the game.”
Hunt isn’t looking for handouts. He is prepared, eager even, to endure the maturation process that comes with going through the BCHL grind.
“Being the youngest guy on the team at 16-years-old, every day I just want to learn as much as I can and progress in my development,” he said.
“I have to earn every shift out there, and hopefully I can progress into a bigger role in future years here.”
The fact that BCHL head office also trimmed maximum roster sizes from 23 to 21 for the coming season also works in Hunt’s favour. The Vipers will roll with 12 forwards, meaning he will likely dress most games.
“I still have to earn every shift, but knowing chances are I’ll be in the lineup most games is a nice feeling to have. I just have to show I can play at this level and earn my spot,” said the playmaking forward.
Added Williamson: “They’re all going to have to play and it’s going to be crucial to have APs (affiliate players), but Riley’s going to be an everyday player.”
Hunt, who skated on a line with Tanner Burns and Jedd Soleway, both Vernon products, at Wednesday practice, will get his first taste of BCHL opposition tonight as Vernon hosts the Westside Warriors in their preseason opener, 7 p.m. at Wesbild Centre.
The Vipers visit the Merritt Centennials Saturday night at Nicola Valley Arena, and Westside Tuesday night at Royal LePage Place. They conclude the exhibition schedule next Friday against the Trail Smoke Eaters at Wesbild.
Warriors’ head coach Rylan Ferster, in his first year with the team, is getting close to locking down his 2011-12 roster. The former Salmon Arm SilverBack bench boss/GM is carrying 27 players into exhibition and still has several decisions to make on the way to an opening day roster.
“We’ve only played the one exhibition game and we had all of our young guys playing,” Ferster told Black Press, referring to the Warriors’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Merritt Centennials Saturday at Royal LePage Place.
“I think we’ll have a good indication after this weekend of who will make our team.”
Among the newcomers making an impression at training camp is Penticton native Adam Plant, a 16-year-old defenceman who played at the Okanagan Hockey Academy last season.
There are also 11 returning veterans from last year’s squad that have been impressive.
“I certainly like the way the vets have carried themselves,” said Ferster. “They’ve taken charge in practice and they’ve worked hard.”
SNAKE BITES: The Cents’ Evan Stack recorded the winner 3:10 into overtime in Saturday’s win…T.J. Dumonceaux, who played part of last season with the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights, is auditioning with the Warriors.