It was like a working holiday and networking convention all wrapped up in one.
With the gorgeous North Okanagan as a backdrop, dozens of junior, college and professional scouts got to watch nearly 100 top junior hockey prospects display their talent at the inaugural Sun-Valley Showcase, which ended Saturday at Wesbild Centre.
The Showcase featured a mix of 1990- to 95-born players who traveled from all corners of North America to display their skill. While primarily B.C. products, others came from Alaska, Texas, California, Florida, Colorado, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta.
Vernon Vipers’ head coach/GM Mark Ferner, who headed the Showcase, said this event is all about exposure – for the players, the B.C. Hockey League and junior A hockey in Canada.
For junior prospects, getting noticed isn’t an easy thing, added Ferner, but by the week’s end, he estimated two-thirds of the 16 BCHL teams will have had a look at the Showcase talent.
“The one thing we identified, especially with a lot of the spring camps, is these kids can pick one camp to go to and get seen by one group of scouts, whether it’s the Vernon Vipers or Salmon Arm SilverBacks or whoever it might be.
“This way, we thought that we’d bring all the schools in and have all the kids in one venue where they can showcase their stuff.”
The players were divided into five teams to play one another in a round-robin. They also participated in practice sessions and off-ice seminars.
Some of the top NCAA Division 1 schools were in the stands watching the daily scrimmages – Northeastern Huskies, Michigan Wolverines, Union Dutchmen, Boston University Terriers and Maine Black Bears to name a few.
“A lot of these schools haven’t been out here in a long time and they need to get back out to the B.C. Hockey League,” said Ferner.
“It’s great for our league as far as the teams that are here to identify players that are going to be able to play in the league. It’s also great for the schools that come out and see some kids that they probably wouldn’t normally be able to see.”
For Alvie O’Connell, a Northeastern scout, the Sun-Valley Showcase, with its concentration of talent all under one air-conditioned roof, is a recruiter’s dream.
“It’s tremendous. The level of talent here is very high. We see a lot of hockey in the summer… all over the U.S., and the competitiveness of this camp is better,” he said.
“It’s a good opportunity to get some kids on the radar for the upcoming season. There’s a lot of good, young prospects and there are a lot of proven players that are already playing in other leagues, so it’s good hockey.”
O’Connell came to the Showcase with specific players to keep an eye out for, but added there will be a few new names on his list by the time the camp is done.
“You’re always looking for the future. There’s definitely some kids here that have caught my eye here today and I look forward to watching them the rest of the week,” he said.
Viper returnees David Robinson, Dylan Walchuk, Trevor Fitzgerald and a lean-looking Bryce Kakoske, along with new recruits Aaron Hadley, Brett Corkey and Marcus Basara all attended the Showcase.
Former Viper captain Chris Crowell, in a bit of role reversal from his days as one of the league’s best heavyweights, helped out as a linesman.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” grinned Crowell.
Kevin Kraus, last year’s captain, manned the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, the Vipers will start the 2010-11 season the same way they began the last one – with a home-and-home series against the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
The Snakes will entertain the Gorillas on Friday, Sept. 10 at Wesbild Centre, and will then travel to Sunwave Centre Saturday night.
Vernon’s 60-game schedule features a trio of lengthy road stints, including a pair of five-game stretches in November and December.
The schedule also features seven home-and-home encounters and four Sunday matinees (Oct. 3, Oct. 24, Dec. 5 and Feb. 20).
The Vipers wrap up their regular season by playing 11 of their final 14 games at Wesbild.
SNAKE BITES: One-time Viper Steve Tresierra is the new captain of the Merritt Centennials. The guitar-playing d-man is a 20-year-old veteran who had seven goals and 27 points with Merritt last year. Said Cents’ head coach Luke Pierce, a Viper grad: “He provides the necessary foundation for creating a culture based on character, work ethic and determination. Steve is a tremendous individual who is well-liked and respected in our community, and is an elite player in our league who commands the respect of his opponents.”