Armed with just two days of training camp experience, a rookie-laden squad of Vernon Viper hopefuls marched into B.C. Hockey League exhibition play Friday night at Art Holding Memorial Arena in Chase.
Squaring off against an equally youthful Trail Smoke Eaters lineup, netminders Tyler Steel, a Vernon product, and Calgary’s Bryton Udy shared the shutout as the Viper rookies cruised to a 4-0 win.
The two teams tangled again Saturday night in Chase.
“We found some things out. They dressed a really young lineup, but at the same time I think our guys competed pretty hard,” said Vipers’ GM/head coach Mark Ferner, who sat out his 20-year-olds, as well as Dylan Walchuk, Aaron Hadley and netminder Blake Voth.
Tanner Cochrane (Kamloops product, ‘93) opened the scoring 7:12 into the first period, assisted by Colton Sparrow (Vernon, ‘93).
Gus Correale (Prince George, ‘93) made it 2-0 Vernon midway through the second period, assists to John Knisley (Pittsford, NY, ‘92) and Cochrane.
With five minutes remaining in the frame, Adriano Munglioni (Dallas, ‘93) collected the Vipers’ third goal, assists to Darren Nowick (Los Angeles, ‘91) and Marcus Basara (Coquitlam, ‘93).
Taylor Love (Newport Beach, Cali., ‘92) completed the scoring early in the third period, assisted by Sean Alldridge (Inuvik, NU, ‘92) and Mike Zalewski (New Hartford, Conn., ‘92).
The Vipers opened their camp Wednesday at Wesbild Centre, and after a sluggish Blue & White intra-squad game that night (a 5-1 win for Team Red), Ferner said the players started to show a little more jump.
“It’s sometimes tough when you’re going out and playing against possibly your teammates,” said Ferner.
“Some of the things we were looking for right from day one, we didn’t see, but we saw them in the (exhibition) game. Certain guys competed harder in the game last night than they did since they’ve been here, which is a good thing.”
In addition to Zalewski, Nowick, Knisley and Correale, Ferner said Calgary defenceman Brett Corkey, who committed to the Vipers earlier in the year, was a standout against the Smoke Eaters.
Ferner wanted to see all of the players in exhibition before making any roster decisions. He expected to make the first round of cuts today.
Rather than burden a bunch of wide-eyed rookies with too much information at camp, Ferner decided to sit back and see what the prospects could generate on their own.
“For the first two days, we just wanted to see how guys were going to compete. We didn’t want to fill their heads with a bunch of systems… so that they’re all so worried about their positioning that they forget to go and move their feet. We wanted to see just the raw talent and competitiveness.”
In the second Blue & White game Thursday night, Team Blue earned a little redemption, salvaging a 7-5 come-from-behind win.
Steel looked sharp in the Blue net, but Team Red opened the scoring as second-year player Pat McGillis, playing on a line with fellow returnee Walchuk, pounced on a loose puck on Steel’s doorstep.
Team Red led 2-1 after the first period.
After a summer in his hometown Calgary, McGillis is ecstatic to be back in Vernon.
“It’s nice to be out here with a bunch of guys who are high skill level, high intensity, because that was hard to find in Calgary,” he said.
Despite all the new faces in camp, the 19-year-old forward is optimistic Vernon will once again challenge for a top seed in the Interior Conference.
“As long as everybody is giving it a good honest effort every time they step on the ice, I think will only take a couple games and we’ll be back together gelling,” he said.
Team Red took a 4-3 lead heading into the third period, but despite allowing a shorthanded goal early in the frame, Team Blue rallied with three unanswered goals and an empty-netter to seal the win.
One Viper prospect who has already had a taste of success on a national level is Basara. Having claimed back-to-back Telus Cup Midget AAA Championship titles with the Notre Dame Hounds of Wilcox, Sask., Basara came into camp already knowing what it takes to win.
“Winning a national championship was such a good experience. It opened my eyes to what’s really out there in the world of winning,” said the 17-year-old forward.
“Before I went to Notre Dame, I was never really on a winning team.”
Basara looked to be one of the smoothest skaters in Thursday’s Blue & White tilt. He collected a pair of assists skating on a line with Correale and Hadley. After an initial adjustment period, he said it was a lot of fun to be out there with so much talent.
“Things happen just a little bit quicker and it takes a bit to adapt. Once you get a hold of that, the game become a lot more fun out there and things start happening for you,” he said.
In other BCHL exhibition action Friday night, the Westside Warriors hammered the Penticton Vees 6-1, the Nanaimo Clippers outgunned the Cowichan Valley Capitals 5-2, and the Surrey Eagles grounded the Langley Chiefs 3-1.