Hockey is back in Vernon as Kal Tire Place has a cold crispness in the air, the boards and glass are puck-streak free and the parking lot was packed to see an intersquad game in training camp.
More than 300 people filtered in, grasping roster sheets so they could catch a glimpse of the new Vipers as they prepare for the B.C. Hockey League season.
“It has been a good couple of days and we have a couple of kids that are looking real good,” said Vipers’ assistant coach Kevin Kraus.
The Vipers broke camp on Friday with scrimmages running throughout the weekend. The last game was the main event and saw the Whites bounce the Blues 7-3.
The Vipers brought 70 hopefuls into camp and cut the group to 31 skaters, including three goalies and nine returnees.
Peter Tufto is 18 and made the 20-hour drive from Minnesota with his dad.
“The camp has been lots of fun and there are a lot of good players here,” said Tufto, who stands 5-foot-7 and played for St. Thomas Academy in the United States High School league.
Tufto is billeting with Liam Finlay, who tallied 22 goals and 59 points for the Snakes last winter.
“We have been skating all week together and I think we have good chemistry. We finally got to play together tonight and I think our game has similar style,” said Tufto, who scored the first goal for the Blues and added one assist.
Rookie Ryan Cooper of St. Albert sniped the top shelf on a drop pass from veteran Blaine Caton and Finlay scored one for blue.
Great Britain prospect Zach Sullivan pulled the hat trick and Jimmy Lambert added 2+1, while Joey Cipollone and Hunter Zandee chipped in singles for White.
The game was intense, but not a bruising affair. Calgary product Levi Hulston was one of the few dishing out hits.
“We rested a few of our physical vets to let some of our younger guys have a chance,” said Kraus. “We saw a lot of good things from guys like Tufto, Steven Jandric, Joey Cipollone, Tak Anholt and Griffin James. We are going to be a very mobile team this year.”
One major take away from the final exhibition game was the pace of play.
Players were in their fourth and fifth game of the weekend but still had plenty of gas left in the tank to put on a speedy show for the loyal fans.
“The speed here is faster than most camps. There is a lot of small, young guys here,” said Zandee.
Zandee was acquired via trade with the West Kelowna Warriors earlier in the month and like Tufto, Zandee found the best chemistry when he was paired up with a Viper from last year.
“I liked playing with Jagger (Williamson) out there. He played in the league last year and is a great player,” said Zandee. “It has been a good, hard-working camp, with a great group of guys and I am ready to get this season going.”
The Vipers invited seven goalies to camp, including14-year-old Boston Bilous of Langley.
Bilous started for Blue and only let in two goals. He was subbed halfway through by Tyler Shugrue. Greg Maggio got the call in between the pipes for White and was replaced by Joesph McLeod, who stopped every shot he faced.
Following the game, Bilous was released from camp. He is too young for the team but enjoyed the experience.
“It’s a faster pace than I am used to at the younger level, but I am happy with my game and my performance so far,” said Bilous, who played for the Delta Hockey Academy Bantam Prep last season and recorded a 2.48 goals against average and a .889 save percentage in 11 games.
“The guys have been great. Jarrod Schamerhorn has been great in helping show me how to be a BCHL goalie,” said Bilous.
“It’s never easy releasing all these kids,” said Viper head coach/GM Mark Ferner. “Some of them were just too young. But, hopefully they had a good time here at camp and in three, four years when they are ready to play at this level, they come back,” said Ferner.
The coaches were only spectators this week, as BCHL rules prohibited them from time on the ice with the kids. Now, with the camp cut in half, the coaches took to the ice Monday afternoon for practice.
“The games were a little sloppy, but not too bad,” said Ferner. “There wasn’t much structure, so we will spend this week implementing our structure and detail.”
The Vipers will practise everyday as they gear up for their first exhibition game with the Silverbacks Friday night in Salmon Arm at the Shaw Centre.
“We can’t look too far down the road to the games against Salmon Arm, we still have a long week of work ahead of us,” said Ferner.
The Vipers host the Silverbacks 6 p.m. Saturday night at Kal Tire Place. Vernon opens the season at home, Friday, Sept. 11 versus the Trail Smoke Eaters.
SNAKE BITES: Vernon’s Nick Higgs, a defenceman with the Okanagan Major Midget Rockets last year, enjoyed a strong Blue-White game and is still in camp…D Matt Halvorson, a Vernon product who played for the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights last season, also survived the cuts…Former Viper F Demico Hannoun was in Penticton Vees’ camp Monday for the start of his fifth BCHL season. Hannoun has played 256 games, including playoffs…The 2016 Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup goes April 30-May 8 at Affinity Place in Estevan, Sask….The Royal Bank Cup is May 14-22 in the Saskatchewan-Alberta border town of Lloydminster.