For the first time in a long time, the Vernon Vipers could be sellers at B.C. Hockey League trade deadline.
It all depends on what’s on offer said head coach/GM Jason Williamson, who has until 8 p.m. Thursday (6 p.m. for inter-league transactions) to finalize his roster for the stretch run.
The Vipers, last in the Interior Division at 12-17-0-7, host the fifth-place Trail Smoke Eaters (16-22-0-1) tonight at Wesbild Centre.
“We’re listening to everything; we have to,” Williamson told The Morning Star Tuesday morning. “Not a lot of things are going on yet; a trade hasn’t been made yet this week. The phones are busy, but we’re not in a panic to do anything.”
The Vipers did shuffle their roster over the weekend. Williamson sent 20-year-old forward Pearce Eviston home, and plucked free agent defenceman Jason Bird from the Coquitlam Express.
Williamson said Eviston didn’t take kindly to being benched for taking a bad penalty in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks. Eviston, whose little brother Bryce is a rookie d-man with the Snakes, was not in the lineup for Vernon’s thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the West Kelowna Warriors Saturday night at Wesbild.
“We need players that put the team first and I made the decision (Friday) night that he wasn’t putting the team first,” said Williamson.
“He’s got to do a little soul searching here to figure out what he wants to do with his hockey career.”
Eviston did not return phone calls.
Bird, a 19-year-old blueliner, was de-carded by the Express in December as he recovered from shoulder surgery. The Etobicoke, Ont. native was injured in a freak accident on opening day. He skated for the first time since the injury Monday with the Vipers, but isn’t expected to be ready for action for a couple weeks.
“Feels good. It was my first real workout yesterday since I did it,” said Bird, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder who compiled two goals, 10 assists and 37 penalty minutes in 52 games with Coquitlam last season.
“I just want to play. I’m really excited. It’s a great organization. Their past record speaks for itself.”
Williamson said having six healthy d-men already will allow him to bring Bird into the lineup when he is fully recovered.
“It just solidifies things and gives us a little healthy competition back there,” he said. “It’s good that we won’t have to rely on APs going into the stretch.
“He’s just got to get back into shape.”
Meanwhile, Ryan Renz scored the OT winner to lift the Vipers past the Warriors in an entertaining 4-3 tilt Saturday before nearly 1,800 fans.
Aaron Hadley provided a pair of goals for Vernon, and assisted on the opening marker by Adam Tambellini (22nd goal) in the first period.
Hadley’s second snipe, his 11th of the season, was a goal-of-the-year candidate. The burly forward went roof daddy on netminder Tyler Briggs while being hauled down by a West Kelowna defender as he crashed the net.
Said Renz: “It was one of the best individual efforts I’ve seen in a long time in my Junior career.”
“We were resilient tonight. People have been saying our team breaks down after giving up goals, but we hung with them each time they scored.”
Renz, who played minor hockey with Hadley in Castlegar, turned in a gritty solo effort for the 4-on-4 winner. Unable to get a point shot off, he pushed wide and got a step on his check, and with teammate Dexter Dancs boxing out the remaining defender, he dove at the net, pushing the puck through Briggs’ five-hole.
Second star David Pope (8th and 9th) replied for the 14-11-2-8 Warriors with a pair of sonic snipes off faceoffs won cleanly by Shawn Hochhausen.
With the score 2-2 early in the third period, Vernon d-man Geoff Crisfield took a wreckless hit from behind penalty that led to Pope setting up Seb Lloyd (17th) for a backdoor feed for the go-ahead goal.
Warriors’ head coach Rylan Ferster said they should have put Vernon away for good after that tally.
“When the score was 3-2, I don’t think we took the game over like we should have, but full marks to them, they were playing hard,” said Ferster.
Viper backup Danny Todosychuk was steady in recording 28 saves for his third win. Briggs had 33 stops.
The Vipers wrap up a three-game homestand Saturday against the Powell River Kings.
SNAKE BITES: Former Viper coach Mark Ferner has been fired from his head coaching duties by the WHL Everett Silvertips. He will be replaced by on an interim basis by Tips’ GM Garry Davidson, former co-owner of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks…Former Viper forward Mike Collins, now with the Merrimack Warriors, is nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to the NCAA Division 1 MVP…Ex-Viper d-man Max Mowat ended his Junior hockey career before the Christmas break due to injury. Mowat, 19, had three assists in 23 games with the Okotoks Oilers.