They gave graduating 20-year-olds scrapbooks, wished scholarship players good luck and urged returnees to learn from an arduous season.
Owner Duncan Wray called the Vernon Viper awards banquet Monday at the Prestige Hotel “ a bitter-sweet night as we say goodbye to some good people.”
The Vipers, who missed the B.C. Hockey League playoffs for the first time in 11 years, lose nine players through aging out and scholarships.
“The season didn’t end the way you wanted, but remember the feeling because we’re going to be stronger next year and we’re going to make some noise in the playoffs so get prepared for a long run,” said Wray.
Outgoing players were also told by Wray to be proud to have worn a Viper jersey.
“You’re always a Viper and you’re always welcome in our family.”
Captain Patrick McGillis, whose leadership the Vipers sorely missed as he was injured for half the season, thanked the fans and billets for sticking with the team in a season full of ups and downs.
“I love you guys (teammates) like brothers and I hope we will be friends forever,” said McGillis. “Thank you to everybody for making this not just a place to play hockey, but a home.”
Head coach/GM Jason Williamson praised team sponsors, head scout Larry Black and tireless trainer Gord (Hoon) Cochran.
“We never had our full team one game all season,” said Williamson. “Our players will be better because of it next year…The banquet will be a lot later than March 12.”
Second-year power winger Mike Zalewski was the Vipers’ top scorer with 38 goals and 75 points after a 12-goal rookie season. The 19-year-old New Yorker also claimed the team’s MVP trophy. He’s headed to play for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers near his New Hartford home on a scholarship next season.
“He’s a great guy, a very skilled hockey player,” said John Knisley, a fellow New York State boy who’s off to the Colgate Big Red next fall.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him playing pro hockey in a couple of years here. Just a great all-around player.”
Zalewski leaves the Vipers as perhaps the best prankster and videographer in team history. Knisley figures Zee may have a future in Hollywood.
“He knows how to make the videos. He’s pretty good at it. He’s a character.”
Brett Corkey, a Calgary product in year two with the Vipers, was chosen Top Defenceman. He amassed 2-32-34.
Other winners were:
Fan Favourite: Riley Hunt.
Unsung Hero: Aaron Hadley.
Top Rookie: Adam Tambellini.
Bill Brown Academics Excellence: Ryan Renz.
Sun Valley Sports Most Improved: Jedd Soleway.
Most Sportsmanlike: McGillis.
Coldstream Truck Parts Shorthanded Goals Leader: Darren Nowick.
Blueliners Club $900 Scholarship: McGillis.
Rienie Holland Service Award: Tie, Max Mowat/McGillis.