Viper defenceman Stevie Weinstein leans into a slap shot during B.C. Hockey League play at Wesbild Centre. The 20-year-old Los Angeles product has committed to the Bentley Falcons.

Weinstein flies for Falcons

Stevie Weinstein knows a thing or two about paying his dues.

On a roster with eight defencemen, the Los Angeles native spent nearly half of his rookie season watching from the press box as the Vernon Vipers marched to the first of back-to-back Royal Bank Cup championships. He actually netted a goal and two assists in the one game he played in the 2009 national tournament in Victoria.

Weinstein, a shifty blueliner who relies on his tremendous awareness and agility to defend against the B.C. Hockey League’s bigger forwards, played in all situations as the Snakes skated to their second RBC banner last May in Dauphin, Man.

He is prepared to play the waiting game all over again when he becomes the first Viper to join the NCAA Division 1 Bentley Falcons of Boston for the 2011-12 season on a scholarship.

“They have four senior d-men for next year, so I don’t know how much I’m going to play,” shrugged the 20-year-old Weinstein, who flew to the Bentley campus after the Vipers’ recent Vancouver Island road trip.

“I’ll have a bigger role as a sophomore, so I’m pretty excited. It just makes you work harder. I know what’s at the end of the tunnel.

“It seems like they’re a team on the rise. They’ve got a good group of younger guys and they’re just going to get better.”

Weinstein, lovingly called “Chewy” by his teammates, has added leadership to his already impressive hockey credentials, wearing an ‘A’ with Vernon in his third year season. One of the league’s most sportsmanlike players, he has accumulated just 10 penalty minutes in 130 regular-season games. He played all 60 games in the 2009-10 season without visiting the sin bin.

Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner recalled having a moment of doubt as he watched an undersized Weinstein stroll into Viper training camp as a rookie.

“That was my first impression of the Jones twins (Connor and Kellen) too,” grinned Ferner. “And look what they did.

“We knew what he was, and he continued to get better. I can’t think of a more deserving player to get a scholarship. He quarterbacks our powerplay, I can put him out in any situation. I don’t know of another defenceman in the league who has his poise, perhaps Joey Laleggia (Penticton Vees).”

Wanting to prepare for the physical grind of a BCHL season and playoffs, Weinstein turned a lot of heads when he walked into training camp for his sophomore season having packed 20 pounds of muscle on his 5-foot-9 frame through a rigourous off-season training program.

“I knew I was going to get a lot of opportunities, so I tried to make the most of it,” he said.

Weinstein’s immediate goal is to help Vernon make a run at a RBC threepeat, something that seemed all to improbable at the start of the season.

“Our work ethic is really getting up there. Even our skill lines are working hard,” said Weinstein.

“That goaltending move (bringing in Kirby Halcrow from the Quesnel Millionaires) really helped. Vother (Blake Voth) and Halcrow are really pushing one another, and that has really benefitted us, and we’re finding ways to win.”

The Vipers, second in the Interior Conference at 20-8-3-6, face the first-place Vees (24-11-1-1) tonight at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Penticton leapfrogged Vernon in the standings Wednesday night with a 2-1 win over the host Westside Warriors at Royal LePage Place. The two clubs haven’t played since Oct. 22, when the Vipers routed the Vees 5-0 to begin parents weekend.

“We always get up for these games. We have a pretty good record against them this year (3-0), but they always get up to play us too,” said Weinstein.

Penticton are led offensively by Laleggia (16-33-49), Brendan O’Donnell (15-29-44) and Mark MacMillan (14-14-28), who missed the start of the season with an injury. O’Donnell (Tampa Bay Lightning, 156th overall) and MacMillan (Montreal Canadiens, 113th overall) were selected in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

SNAKE BITES: The Vipers re-entered the CJHL national Junior A standings this week at No. 15. The only other BCHL team on the list is the Powell River Kings at No. 1… The Vipers have two full bus loads of fans heading to tonight’s game in Penticton.

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