The Vernon Vipers are 4-0 in B.C. Hockey League preseason play, but it might be a bit soon to predict a 51-6-0-3 run like they had last season.
With 16 players lost to graduation and college commitments, the Snakes are experiencing their largest personnel turnover in four seasons. Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner says it would be unfair to expect a repeat of last year’s Royal Bank Cup success, but notes he isn’t about to lower the bar.
“There will be a lot of teaching going on in the next couple weeks, making sure that everyone is very aware of the expectations and responsibilities,” said Ferner, entering his fourth year behind the Viper bench along with assistant coach Jason Williamson.
“We have to be patient with them, but at the same time the expectation doesn’t change. We have a lot of work to do.
“We like our group – it’s young, we’re going to have some growing pains, but we have a good group of kids here.”
Following the Vipers’ 4-3 win over the Salmon Arm SilverBacks Saturday night at the Sunwave Centre, Ferner trimmed his roster down to 24 men. He will have to make one final incision before now and the Snakes’ regular-season opener against the SilverBacks Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
Released are netminder Tyler Steel of Vernon, 6-foot-5 defenceman Austin Sture (Anchorage) and forwards Tanner Cochrane (Kamloops) and Adriano Munglioni (Dallas).
The two teams collide again Saturday at Sunwave.
Charlie Vasaturo opened the scoring Saturday with a powerplay goal at 17:00 of the first period, assisted by Morgan Zulinick and David Killip. Vernon stormed back 90 seconds later as Gus Correale capped a play with Taylor Love and Tanner Cochrane.
The Vipers’ Mike Zalewski netted the first of his two goals early in the second period, assists to Trevor Fitzgerald and Aaron Hadley.
“It was a better game. It was more of what both sides were expecting,” said Ferner. “(Friday) night, there wasn’t a lot of intensity or a lot of plays being made. It was pretty sloppy on both sides.”
Dave Robinson made it three unanswered Viper goals at 8:17 of the second period, assisted by Dylan Walchuk Greg Maarschalk sends the ball back via a killer backhand.
Robinson, who wore #18 with Vernon last season, will be sporting Connor Jones’ old #10 for his final year of Junior A.
“I asked permission first and he said he would rather me wear it than someone who doesn’t know him,” smiled the Viper captain, who played on a line with Connor and twin brother Kellen Jones as 16-year-old call-ups before joining the WHL Chilliwack Bruins.
“That’s the number I grew up wearing until I got to Chilliwack, so it’s nice to finish off my last year of junior with it.”
The SilverBacks jumpstarted the home crowd just 58 seconds into the third period as Jarryd Ten Vaanholt pulled Salmon Arm within a goal.
The Gorillas’ Brandon Mistal equalized at 4:44, but Zalewski, a New Hartford, Conn. native, recorded the winner at 13:58, assisted by Fitzgerald.
Vipers’ incumbent Blake Voth (26 saves) and the SilverBacks’ Kris Moore (33 saves), acquired in the offseason from the Camrose Kodiaks, went the distance in net.
When asked what this year’s edition of the Vipers will look like, Ferner grinned: “Good question. It’ll be a while before we get that chemistry, it’ll be a while before we know what we’re doing in every situation as far as systems are concerned.”