Vernon Vipers launch main camp

Vernon Vipers hit the ice Monday as they gear up for B.C. Hockey League season.

Head coach Jason Williamson is expecting plenty of competition for jobs as the Vernon Vipers host their main hockey camp starting Monday at Kal Tire Place.

Practices begin 9 a.m. daily Monday through Wednesday, with Team Blue vs Team White intra-squad games going 3 p.m. Monday and 4:30 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Vernon begins B.C. Hockey League exhibition season Friday against the host Salmon Arm SilverBacks. Troy Mick’s Gorillas visit Kal Tire Place Saturday night (7 p.m.).

Among the 40-plus attending players are 14 returnees – eight forwards (Mason Blacklock, Dexter Dancs, TJ Dumonceaux, Craig Martin, Mitch McAllister, Logan Mick, Brendan Persley and Colton Sparrow), four d-men (Jason Bird, Bryce Eviston, Michael Statchuk and Ryan Renz) and both goalies (Austin Smith and Danny Todosychuk).

There will also be a trio of players coming to the Viper den as a result of Vernon’s dealings at the carding deadline – forwards Demico Hannoun and Michael McNicholas, and d-man Josh Bryan.

Local invites include blueliner Matt Halvorson, a Vernon Midget Tier 1 Viper who took a regular shift with the North Okanagan Knights during their run to the KIJHL playoff final, and goalie Harrison Whitlock, who played Major Midget with the Kootenay Ice.

“I’m excited; it’s a very competitive camp,” said Williamson, who will be assisted by Kris Mallette and Dave Robinson. “That’s whole point of training camp – guys are competing for jobs. That’s hockey, that’s life, that’s junior.

“All the kids that are coming, except for maybe a few younger ones, they all have the ability to play in the league.”

The one position where Williamson likely won’t tinker too much is in net. Smith, who joined Vernon from the WHL Swift Current Broncos last season, solidified his role as the No. 1. Todosychuk was reassigned to the KIJHL Golden Rockets for a stint, but was sharp once he was recalled mid-season.

“Their job is to push each other and make sure they are 100 per cent committed to it,” said Williamson. “We played Danny in some huge games last year. It’s their job to want the net and not give it up.”

As opposed to previous seasons when the Viper captain was appointed, Williamson intends to let the leadership dynamic shake out in camp. He was pleased to see a group of veterans – led by Smith, Persley, Renz, Bryan, Dumonceaux and Sparrow – organize an offseason leadership retreat, with the goal of establishing team culture.

“Championship teams are built off the ice and that was key,” said Williamson. “We’ve got a lot of leaders and a lot of captains, and it’s important they gel right from he get-go.”

Meanwhile, there are still spots available in the Vipers Tee Off for Kidsport charity golf tournament, Sunday, Aug. 25 at The Rise.

Tickets for the Texas scramble tourney (1 p.m. shotgun start) are $160, which also includes admission to the Vipers’ B.C. Hockey League exhibition game versus the Salmon Arm SilverBacks on Saturday, Aug. 24 (7 p.m.).

The golf also includes dinner, prizes, tee gift, silent auction and autograph session with guest celebrities.

Net proceeds will be shared by Greater Vernon KidSport and the local Royal Bank Cup committee.

Organizers are also in need of several hole sponsors. To register, or for sponsorship information, contact The Rise head pro Lee Ranger by phoning 250-545-7425, or e-mailing lee.ranger@therise.ca. Or call the Viper office at 250-542-6022.