Things appear to be shaping up nicely for the Vernon Vipers as they prepare for the fast approaching B.C. Hockey League season. Quite literally.
If there is one thing fans are bound to notice when Vernon hosts the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in exhibition play Saturday night (7:00) at Kal Tire Place, it’s that this year’s team has no shortage of muscle.
Head coach Jason Williamson has yet to finalize his 22-man roster, but it is almost certain to be the biggest since 2009-10.
Returning big-rig blueliners Ryan Renz (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and Michael Statchuk (6-0, 205) will be joined by ex-Nanaimo Clipper Josh Bryan (6-2, 205) and American imports Mark Hamilton (6-3, 220) and Kenny Citron (6-1, 210).
“Anyone coming into our end isn’t gonna want to be in there very long,” said Williamson. “Good luck because they’re physical. I want them to wear other teams down.”
Coming into camp as a 20-year-old defenceman, Bryan thought he would have an edge on the competition. And while he has stood out as a smart, reliable defender this week, it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s tough,” said Bryan, who, along with forward Michael McNicholas, came to Vernon as part of the trade that sent Aaron Hadley to Nanaimo. “Coming in as a 20-year-old, you think you might be able to dominate, but it’s good competition out there.
“The blood’s boiling a little bit in the intra-squad games, which is good to see. I’m getting right into that. Hopefully we can turn that over and have that intensity over other teams.”
Bryan, a Victoria product, posted nine goals for 30 points in 55 games last season with Mike Vandekamp’s Clippers. McNicholas, a 19-year-old Manhattan Beach, Calif. native, had 22-10-32 in 35 games. At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, he will be one of the smaller Viper forwards this season.
However, it’s forwards like Mason Blacklock (6-2, 200), Matty Saharchuk (6-3, 195), Dexter Dancs (6-2, 205), Dallas Calvin (6-5, 210), Liam Coughlin (6-4, 202) and Brendan Persley (6-1, 205) that will make the ice surface at Kal Tire Place feel like Okanagan Training Rink.
“If you take up more ice, good things are going to happen,” said Williamson. “If you look at the NHL and the teams that are winning now, like the Chicago Blackhawks, they’re big, hard, grinding teams.
“I really want our team to have the identity that they’ll be skilled, but some games that’s not going to be there. I want other teams to realize it’s going to be a battle.”
The main worry about big-bodied players is their skating and mobility, but Williamson noted that with the offseason training programs these kids put themselves through, he isn’t overly concerned.
“You have to be able to skate to play, but these kids are all personally trained,” he said. “They’ve been at skills camps and power skating.”
Williamson released half a dozen players following Wednesday’s Blue vs White intra-squad game, which Kris Mallette’s Team White won 6-3, making it a three-game sweep over Dave Robinson’s Team Blue.
Leaving camp are Alex Gran, Griffin Dyne, John Hume, Tyson Klingspohn, Blake Waldersen and Nick Guerra, which leaves Williamson and his staff 10 more cuts to get down to the 22-man limit.
The remaining Viper hopefuls spent Thursday morning in a systems meeting before hitting the ice for practice. They open a five-game exhibition schedule tonight in Salmon Arm.
The Snakes will meet the Prince George Spruce Kings in 100 Mile House for a Wednesday-night tilt, and will wrap their exhibition schedule with a home-and-home set against Rylan Ferster’s West Kelowna Warriors starting next Friday in Vernon.
The regular season opens with the second annual Showcase tournament beginning Saturday, Sept. 7 at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. Vernon faces the defending Fred Page Cup champion Surrey Eagles on Sept. 7, followed by the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sunday, Sept. 8.
The Vipers’ home opener is Saturday, Sept. 14 (7 p.m.) against Salmon Arm.
Meanwhile, organizers of the Vipers Tee Off for KidSport charity golf tournament, which goes Sunday (1 p.m. shotgun start) at The Rise, have announced their Telus-sponsored juniors golfers.
Dexter Weiten, 13, Christian Lacosse, 16, Ethan Hunt, 13, and Ryan Moon, 14, will all hit the links with the Vipers and other guest celebrities for the Texas scramble tourney.
Several regular entries still available. The $160 entry fee includes dinner, prizes, tee gift, silent auction, autograph session and a ticket to the Vipers-Backs exhibition.
To register, contact The Rise head pro Lee Ranger by phoning 250-545-7425, or e-mailing email@example.com. Or call the Viper office at 250-542-6022.
SNAKE BITES: Viper netminders Austin Smith and Danny Todosychuk took maintenance days Wednesday, leaving Team White’s Harrison Whitlock to battle Blue’s Gunnar Neilson in the intra-squad game.