The Vernon Vipers have two more games and two more cuts to finalize their roster for the coming B.C. Hockey League season.
Vernon head coach/GM Jason Williamson trimmed his roster to 24 players following the Vipers’ 3-1 exhibition win over the Prince George Spruce Kings Wednesday night at 100 Mile House.
He released goaltenders Harrison Whitlock and Gunnar Neilson, along with 1996-born defenceman Matt Halvorson, who played last season with the Vernon Midget Tier 1 Vipers.
Halvorson is expected to join the North Okanagan Junior B Knights, who relied on him as a call-up throughout their run to the KIJHL final last year.
With two goalies, seven d-men and 15 forwards remaining at camp, Williamson will have to make two more cuts up front. He will further evaluate his players tonight as the Vipers entertain the West Kelowna Warriors in the first game of a home-and-home set. The Snakes wrap up the preseason Saturday at Royal LePage Place.
Vernon begins the regular season at the second annual BCHL Showcase Tournament at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. The Snakes battle the defending Fred Page Cup champion Surrey Eagles on Saturday, Sept. 7 (11:30 a.m.), followed by the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday, Sept. 8 (6 p.m.).
“I’ve got some tough decisions to make,” said Williamson, who is impressed with how the team has come together so far in the preseason.
“Our dee was good. Simple. Our forwards were physical. We were good pretty much from start to finish.”
He also praised netminder Danny Todosychuk, who made his preseason debut in 100 Mile House after missing the last week to a muscle tweak.
“He played well for not playing in a while. He made some unbelievable saves. He looked like a veteran in there.”
Williamson noted 20-year-old netminder Austin Smith, who is also nursing a muscle pull, is close to returning to action.
“He’s been on the ice and skating,” said Williamson. “He did good work over the summer and from what we did see, it’s standard Smitty.”
Tyler Povelovskie, playing close to his native Williams Lake, tipped a Mark Hamilton point shot to open Vernon’s account midway through the first period.
Matty Saharchuk made it 2-0 before the intermission as he one-timed a gorgeous saucer pass courtesy of Michael McNicholas.
D-man Jason Bird earned his second assist of the night as he set up forward Mike Iovanna down low on a second-period powerplay. With space to move, Iovanna walked in on net and beat Alex Murray high, gloveside, with a backhand.
Justin Rai answered for the Spruce Kings in the third period, assisted by Caleb Thompson and Chad Staley.
The Vipers’ Dexter Dancs scrapped Lucas Formica in a long, spirited fight in the second period.
Meanwhile, the Vipers and Save-On-Foods are hosting a tailgate party barbecue in the Kal Tire Place parking lot before tonight’s game.
The fan appreciation event starts at 4:30 p.m. and will include entertainment by Kiss-FM, an inflatable bouncy castle and a meet-and-greet with the Vipers. The host RBC Cup committee will also be on hand to promote the 2014 national junior A hockey championship being held in Vernon next May.