They are both battling for the same position, and neither one is backing down.
Vernon Viper netminder prospects Tyler Steel, a Vernon product, and Bryton Udy of Calgary have yet to allow a single goal in B.C. Hockey League exhibition play, including Friday night’s 3-0 shared shutout win over the Salmon Arm SilverBacks at Wesbild Centre.
Neither keeper had to make a ton of saves (Udy recorded 10 stops, Steel had eight), but both were steady when called upon.
“That’s what we want. We want them to make us make tough decisions,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Jason Williamson. “Neither of those two have let a goal in in exhibition, and they’re pushing Blake (Voth) and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Udy, who sports an homage to Australian country music star Keith Urban on his mask, flashed some quick pads in turning aside shots destined for the bottom corner.
Steel got bowled over by the SilverBacks’ Chris Hoe while making his first save of the night, and displayed a solid ability to handle the puck.
The Vipers tangled with the Gorillas in their final exhibition tilt Saturday night in Salmon Arm, and head coach/GM Mark Ferner expects to make the final cuts to the training camp roster early this week.
Vernon will host Salmon Arm for their season opener Friday night at Wesbild Centre. The two clubs battle again Saturday at the Sunwave Centre in Salmon Arm.
Goaltending dilemma aside, Williamson said there are other tough choices to be made.
“It’s part of junior hockey. That’s where you could say we earn our job, making those tough decisions. And you got to give these kids credit, they play hard,” he said.
At the other end, Salmon Arm keeper Kurt Williams, the son of team owner Randy Williams, turned in a solid 27-save showing. He had no chance when the Vipers’ Pat McGillis (first star) redirected Brett Corkey’s powerplay point shot along the ice to open the scoring midway through the first period.
Later in the frame, Williams robbed speedy centreman John Knisley on a breakaway with a quick glove save. A svelte-looking Bryce Kakoske set up the play with a terrific seam pass to split the SilverBack defence.
While not overly impressed with the quality of play Friday night, Salmon Arm defenceman Jayson Reardon, a Lumby native, said it is all part of the early season chemistry experiment that is junior A hockey.
“Probably from both perspectives, it was pretty scrambly for both teams, but obviously both teams are going to be better (in the regular season),” he said.
“Last year we were in the top four but slid out of the playoffs in the first round. The team wasn’t really into it any more, but this year it’s a new coach, a lot of new players coming in and we’re looking to get in the top-two (in the Interior).”
Reardon, 20, is one of four returning d-men that Salmon Arm will count on heavily this season. Clinton Atkinson, who returned from the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors, Josh Monk and Charlie Vasaturo are the other three.
“We definitely got a big boost when Atkinson came back from Moose Jaw. With him, it just puts our top-four over the top,” said Reardon.
Added Salmon Arm head coach Tim Kehler: “We don’t really have the skill like we did with (Mark) Zengerle last year, but as an overall core it will be a lot of scoring by committee.”
Kehler, an assistant coach with the WHL Swift Current Broncos the last three years, is eager to build a winning culture in the SilverBack dressing room.
“I still think there is an aura about coming in here and playing the Vipers. It feels like we’re down a goal even before we start and that’s a mindset that is going to have to change if we want to have some success.”
Vasaturo was fortunate to get away with a boarding minor early in the first period when he ran Viper blueliner Adam Thompson awkwardly into the end boards. Thompson left the game and did not return.
After a scoreless second period, Vernon got more creative offensively in the third. Kakoske, shielding the puck in the corner, worked back towards the blueline and fed a gorgeous diagonal backdoor pass to a streaking Stevie Weinstein (second star) for Vernon’s second goal at 9:38.
Marcus Basara, a Notre Dame Hounds grad, finished the scoring by beating Williams’ glove with a laser wrist shot on a clear-cut breakaway. Vernon’s Colton Sparrow started the play by intercepting a Salmon Arm clearing attempt.
Vernon’s newest defenceman, Elliott Richardon, earned third star. The Hanmer, Ont. product showed considerable poise on the back end despite arriving in Vernon just a few days earlier.