Jason (JR) Read was brought in to tighten up the Vernon Vipers’ defence, and so far he has done just that.
Through five B.C. Hockey League outings, the Snakes have allowed a measly 23.8 shots per game, and their 2.4 goals against average is in the top half of the Interior Division.
The Viper blueline will be tested tonight (7:00) when Vernon (2-1-0-2) hosts the Prince George Spruce Kings (3-0-1-1) at Wesbild Centre. The Snakes visit the 2-4 Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday at Cominco Arena.
Read, who grew up in St. Albert and was living in Calgary when he joined the Vipers as an assistant coach this summer, is a big believer in empowering players to take charge of their game. He is impressed with the poise of Vernon’s defensive corps, led by veterans Brett Corkey, Ryan Renz, Geoff Crisfield and Marc Hetnik.
“The most impressive thing is the kids are willing to learn and they take charge of their own actions,” said Read, 41. “They compete every night.
“The d-men do a good job and from there you just try to help them with the things they want to get better at, and encourage them on the things they’re already good at.”
Read was the Vipers’ southern Alberta scout while he coached the Calgary Midget Tier 1 Royals for the last few seasons. Not only does he have good recruiting contacts in the region, he understands the mindset of the players making the jump to Junior A.
“All the players think they’re going to make it,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with having those dreams, but you’ve got to put in the time and you’ve got to work.
“Bottom line, if you don’t realize what your asset is as a player, your window gets narrower. A lot of the kids that grasp that, they’re still playing. The ones that didn’t, they fade out quick.”
Through Read’s Alberta connections, the Vipers have a top-four d-man in Crisfield (he coached him on the Royals two seasons ago) and a No. 1 netminder in Austin Smith, formerly of the WHL Swift Current Broncos, in the fold.
Said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson: “It’s simply because JR knew a kid (Smith) who wanted an opportunity, so he recruited him to come try out for our team.
“Recruiting is a huge part of our game, especially when there’s no draft, no protected list, no nothing. He’s got lots of contacts out there, which is something we definitely use to our advantage.”
Similar to Williamson and assistant Dave Robinson, Read remains relatively calm (for a coach) behind the bench.
“He doesn’t let his emotions show through,” said Williamson. “He pushes the guys, but at the same time, he asks them questions.
“And he’s a good sounding board for me when I ask him questions. He’s got a good amount of experience; he’s easy to talk to about certain scenarios and personalities, with game concepts, with everything.”
Read’s previous Junior coaching experience includes a stint with the BCHL Victoria Salsa as an assistant under Campbell Blair (former Vernon Laker d-man, now coaching the NCAA Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves) for two years (1999-01), and one as head coach (2001-02). Read coached against Williamson in his playing days with the Vipers.
The biggest difference between now and then is speed, says Read.
“The kids and how they train in summertime clearly comes into play. Before, the guys with the higher-end skill could get away with it. Now there’s no way.”
Read cut his coaching teeth at age 23, learning from Larry Keating of the Kelowna Midget League program.
“We still hold that record for back-to-back provincial titles,” smiled Read, noting Keating is still in Kelowna coaching his grandchildren.
“He keeps it simple and doesn’t try to reinvent the game.”