It was like the first day at a new school Wednesday at Wesbild Centre.
The opening day of the Vernon Vipers’ training camp was as much about putting faces to names as it was about assembling a crew capable of defending the Royal Bank Cup national junior A hockey title.
The Snakes have just seven returning players on a 23-man roster, leaving plenty of opportunity for players to earn quality minutes when the 2010-11 B.C. Hockey League season opens Friday, Sept. 10.
Coming back on defence are Stevie Weinstein, a speedy puck mover, and Adam Thompson, who should get more opportunity to use his booming point shot this season. Both are 1990-born players.
Captain Dave Robinson (‘90), Bryce Kakoske (‘90), Pat McGillis (‘91) and Dylan Walchuk (‘92) round out the forward corps, while netminder Blake Voth (‘91) will look to build on the impressive 21-2 record he compiled in his rookie season.
After that, the Vipers have more vacancies than a Louisiana hotel during hurricane season.
With so many prime roles available, Vipers’ assistant coach Jason Williamson believes it will fuel competition amongst the 40 players attending camp.
“It’s good in some sense because they’re coming in and they’re eager and wanting to earn jobs here,” he said. “We’ve got to fill a lot of holes and there are some key opportunities for guys to step in and play huge minutes.”
After just two days of practices and Blue vs White scrimmages, the Vipers jump right into exhibition action with games tonight and Saturday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters in Chase.
The Vipers have one home exhibition tilt against the Salmon Arm SilverBacks on Friday, Sept. 3 at Wesbild. They visit the Gorillas the next night at Sunwave Centre.
Once a team is selected, the Snakes will need to gel with their new teammates in a hurry as they open the season by hosting Salmon Arm on Sept. 10. With so many new faces, Robinson said he and the other veterans will need to give a crash course in Viper hockey tradition.
“As leaders we have to be a bit more assertive. We’ve got a lot of new guys coming in so we’ve got to show them the ropes,” he said.
“As a team, it might take a couple weeks or so to gel, but Ferns (head coach Mark Ferner) and Willy (Williamson) are both great coaches so I’m sure they’ll get us going before the season starts.”
Aaron Hadley, a 17-year-old Castlegar product who committed to the Vipers during last season’s playoff run, was thrilled to finally be at camp.
“I’m excited. The team looks good, I’m coming to a great organization and I can’t wait to get the season underway,” said Hadley, a point-a-game player who amassed 94 penalty minutes with the KIJHL Beaver Valley Nitehawks as a 16-year-old.
“There are a lot of good guys leaving – the Joneses and Pimmer (Braden Pimm) – so everyone’s going to have a new role this year. It’s going to be good.”
Kakoske is coming into camp 20 pounds lighter than last season. Wanting to lead by example, the Vernon product trimmed the weight in the offseason by running lots and following a rigorous workout routine.
“We might be a bit smaller this year, but the Jonesies (Connor and Kellen Jones) did OK in this league, so we’ll be OK. There’s kids from everywhere here and there looks to be a lot of talent.”