Nine games down and the Vernon Vipers are slowly developing a template for success in the toughest division in the B.C. Hockey League.
And with the 13th-worst powerplay – 5-for-41 – they made a major move Tuesday by trading for Jared Wilson of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, the league’s leading rookie defenceman last year with 10 goals and 33 points. The Calgary product has three goals and eight points this season and has a scholarship with the RPI Engineers for 2014-15.
The Vipers gave up 18-year-old centre Craig Martin and future considerations. Martin, of Trail, racked up seven goals and 16 points last season and has three goals and seven points this year. He has a scholarship with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.
“I’m real excited,” Wilson told The Morning Star. “My coach (Kevin Willison)called me this morning and at first, it was a shock, but I’m excited about playing in the RBC with Vernon.”
Wilson, who played lacrosse in his early teens, patrolled the back line for the Calgary Royals in Midget hockey, netting a dozen goals and 32 points his final campaign.
“I like to think of myself as a solid two-way guy. Obviously, I’m more offensive minded, but I can play in all situations.”
Wilson, a bogey golfer, is already fairly close with Dexter Dancs, Riley Guenther, Austin Smith and Michael McNicholas of the Vipers.
“He’s a little bit of a puck mover and very good offensively,” said Vipers’ head coach/GM Jason Williamson. “He will definitely help our powerplay. When you go 0-for-7 in games, it’s not good.”
Martin’s departure will likely mean second-year centre TJ Dumonceaux will move up to the third line.
“It was a tough one, but you have to give up something good to get something good,” added Williamson. “They needed forwards and they asked for him.”
The Bulldogs, who got Vernon product Harlan Orr in a deal with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks are off to a 1-7-1 start after losing their three top scorers to the USHL.
The Vipers gave up two empty-netters (Mitchell Fyfe and Nicolas Pierog) during a late powerplay in a 7-4 loss to the Surrey Eagles before 1,625 fans Saturday night at Kal Tire Place.
The loss cost the Snakes (3-3-1-2) space in the Interior table, where five of six teams are at .500 or better and the last-place Merritt Centennials are 4-5. The SilverBacks and Vees each won two weekend games, while the Cents and West Kelowna Warriors each posted one victory.
Vernon pulled Smith for a sixth attacker for a 6-on-4 powerplay that did everything but find the net on acrobatic Surrey net detective Victor Adamo.
The Vipers went up 2-0 in a hurry on goals four minutes apart by McNicholas and ex-Eagle Mason Blacklock (his team-high eighth). Surrey reeled off three goals, two on the powerplay, in five minutes for a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes.
“We kind of let up when we got up 2-0,” said McNicholas, a crafty centre obtained in the Aaron Hadley deal with the Nanaimo Clippers.
“We got a little too confident then and they capitalized on our mistakes. I think we’re still trying to find our identity. We’re doing a better job. This week was pretty good for us minus that game. We’re making strides in the right direction.”
Jonah Renouf, who has hands much like the Jones twins, and Nicolas Pierog counted powerplay goals two minutes apart to make it 2-2 midway through the first period. D-man Ryan Fraser-Lee floated the go-ahead goal past a screened Smith three minutes later.
McNicholas equalized early in the second period before Renouf put Surrey ahead shortly after from in tight. Renouf, a Mississauga product who pocketed 29 goals and 94 points with the Oakville Blades last year, has a scholarship to Quinnipiac, near Hartford, next year, the same school the Jones twins are attending as seniors. Renouf’s twin, Nathan, also headed to Quinnipiac, is on injured reserve. He put up 77 points with Oakville last season.
The Vipers levelled the score 85 seconds into the third period before 1,625 fans when former Eagle Demico Hannoun quickly beat Adamo after Jason Bird’s bomb from the left point ricocheted off the end boards. Fraser-Lee provided the winner seven minutes later.
Retired NHLer Peter Schaefer is the Eagles’ head coach/GM and has inherited a handful of returnees from Matt Erhart, now an assistant coach with the WHL Vancouver Giants.
“At this stage in the game, we’re very ecstatic about the win against a good team,” said Schaefer. “We definitely have to work on a lot of things, but it’s early in the season.”
Schaefer felt the Eagles played with more grit and energy on the smaller NHL-sized ice. Surrey has an Olympic rink, where they lost 4-1 to Vernon the night before. His team is also trying to find its personality.
“We’re probably gonna see two different teams at the end of the year with Vernon being the RBC host, and now we can move on to divisional games and wish them all the best on this side.”
The game was a homecoming for former Viper and Vernon minor hockey grad Michael Roberts, who centered a line with Alex Whitwham and Darius Davidson.
“It was pretty crazy with a lot of travel hours for both teams, but both teams played hard and split the series,” said Roberts, 18. “Both games were back and forth.”