It’s no shock that the Vernon Vipers are a young team in transition. With so many new faces it took the squad a while to come together as a team, but when they did, the Vipers went all the way to the Okanagan Cup final.
The Vipers began their training camp on the last weekend of September. The Snakes took on the West Kelowna Warriors and lost both games, 4-1 and 2-1. Ryan Shostak and Kaidan Johnson had the goals for the Vipers over the two games.
Both teams had penalty trouble as Vernon went 1-for-6 and 0-for-6 on the power play in the respective games. Heading into October, the Vipers were a team trying to gel and get their first win of the pre-season.
The first weekend of October had the Vipers take on the archrival Pentiction Vees. The Snakes lost both games to the Vees by scores of 4-0 and 4-1. Kjell Kjemhus had the lone goal for the Vipers.
With three goals in four games, head coach and general manager Jason McKee made the decision to trade Brett Fudger, Colby Feist, and future considerations to Cowichan Valley for veteran forward Will Arquiett. With the new acquisition, Vernon won its first game over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 5-2.
Cameron MacDonald was the standout in the win with two goals and an assist. The following night, Vernon won its second game 4-3 and Arquiett scored his first goal as a Viper on the powerplay.
The middle of October set up a rematch with the West Kelowna Warriors. Vernon got a point in a 4-3 shootout loss. The Snakes led 3-1 in the game before West Kelowna clawed back.
This game had a bit of everything. The Warriors played two emergency backup goalies from the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets as both of their goalies were injured. There were two penalty shots for each team, Vernon scored on its opportunities, West Kelowna did not.
The next game was almost identical to the game before it. Vernon led 3-1 after the first to eventually lose 4-3 in overtime. Both Arquiett and Zack Tonelli each had two points for the Vipers.
The Snakes continued their pre-season play in the last weekend of October with a back to back matchup against the Silverbacks. The Vipers got help on the scoresheet with players from the WHL added to the roster.
Tyler Carpendale, on loan from the Kamloops Blazers, and Josh Prokop, from the Calgary Hitmen, both factored on the scoresheet. Then the Silverbacks got their revenge on Halloween as they beat Vernon 2-1 in a shootout. Luke Pakulak had the lone goal for the Snakes.
The Vipers ended October with only three wins but the team was slowly coming together and key pieces were added to make Vernon a good team.
Vernon ended the round-robin portion of the Okanagan Cup as it began, with a series against the Vees. At this point, the Vees had only lost one game and were the best team in the tournament.
In the first game, Vernon was shutout 4-0. The second game was different as Vernon jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the first but a hat trick from Penticton’s Quinn Hutson helped the Vees win 6-3.
With the round-robin over, Vernon finished in third and met the West Kelowna Warriors in the semi-finals. The Vipers had yet to beat the Warriors, but the previous few games were close and Vernon was a different team from the first time they played West Kelowna.
The semi-final game was the best defensive performance the Vipers had all tournament. Jojo Tanaka- Campbell scored halfway into the first to give the Vipers a 1-0 lead.
There was no scoring in the second, and the Vipers tried to defend the lead. Goaltender Koen MacInnes, who came over from the Saskatoon Blades, was huge for the Vipers, making jaw-dropping saves as the Warriors looked to get back into the game.
An empty-net goal from MacDonald solidified the win for Vernon and gave it a berth into the Okanagan Cup final versus the Penticton Vees.
Okanagan Cup final
The final pre-season game was a winner take all affair. Penticton beat Vernon in all the games they’d played during the extended training camp, but the Snakes proved they could play with the best.
Vernon and Pentiction traded goals in the first to take a 1-1 tie into the second period. In the middle frame, there was no scoring, which meant the championship would come down to the third or overtime.
Penticton scored 6:44 into the third period and had the Vipers on their heels. Vernon scored at 17:37 to tie it and force the game to overtime. In overtime, a 2-on-1 ended Vernon’s dreams of being the Okanagan Cup champions, as Jacob Quillan sealed the deal for Penticton.
Vernon proved it can play with the best and should be a team to watch when the BCHL regular season starts in the new year.