I had the opportunity to catch up with Vernon Vipers general manager and head coach Jason McKee this past week. We talked about the Vipers’ abrupt end to the season, the off-season, and what lies ahead for the team.
McKee feels the 2019-20 season was an overall success but his end goal every year is to win a national championship. He also said his team showed their true colors when faced with heavy adversity in the season.
“We had some inconsistencies throughout our year, but as the season progressed, I felt our team was playing the best that we’d played all year.”
Before the playoffs were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vernon was set to play the Penticton Vees in the Interior Conference semi-finals. The Vipers had just come off a 4-1 series victory over the Wenatchee Wild and according to McKee, was excited and ready to play the Vees.
“We were emotionally invested in those games and the guys were good, I was super proud of the way they played. We were excited about the opportunity to play Penticton, we knew we had just beaten a very good team in Wenatchee. We also knew we had a very good opponent coming up but our confidence level at that time was very high. Man-to-man, we felt like we were gonna be right in the thick of things with Penticton.”
Recruitment for 2020-21
With 10 new recruits joining the team for the 2020-21 season, McKee has been busy. Three of the recruits came from the same Chicago Mission U18 team. McKee is excited to have Desmond Johnson, Nicholas Remissong, and Daniel Rozsival join the Vernon Vipers.
— VernonVipers (@VernonVipers) June 17, 2020
“Those were a few guys we identified early, we were able to watch them at Mac’s Tournament and got to know them a little bit, and it’s one of those things where we’d knew they’d be comfortable coming together,” explained McKee.
He emphasized that despite coming from the same U18 team, all three players individually made the decision to come to Vernon.
“Obviously they have to do what’s best for them and their career and they felt like Vernon was that option. It probably isn’t going to work out like that every year but for this year, maybe we got a little bit lucky but we’re really happy to be adding all three players.”
The Vipers have recruited a number of players during the off-season but the most recent is Ayden Third. Third is from Regina and spent the last season playing for the Regina Pats Canadians U18 AAA team. McKee says his playing style is very important in the BCHL.
“Ayden is a big strong kid, he was at our camp in 2019 and a big part of his midget team last year. He’s a really good defensive defenseman but can also help on the offensive side of the puck,” described McKee. “He’s got good size, he’s very difficult to get around and play against, and he’s mobile. I think that’s the biggest thing in the BCHL, you need to move well out there and skate and he’s able to do those things.”
Trade with Bonnyville
Vernon also traded for 2002-born forward Jarrod Semchuk from the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in exchange for future considerations. Mckee is excited to see what Semchuk does with the Vipers and hopes a fresh start will see him reach his full potential.
“Semchuk was 17-years-old in Salmon Arm last season. He’s cut his teeth a little bit in the league. It’s a big step from midget to junior especially as an underage player playing in the BCHL,” said McKee.
— VernonVipers (@VernonVipers) July 2, 2020
The Vipers boss feels Semchuk will benefit from a fresh start in Vernon. “We’re hoping that some of the numbers he put up in midget will translate to the junior level as an 18-year-old. He’s still a young player, we think there’s the potential for Jarrod to become a real impact guy in the BCHL. He’s from Kamloops so he’s a local kid in the area, and we are excited to add him to our roster.”
Expectations for 2020-21
The Snakes are a much younger team than they were at this point last year. McKee doesn’t think it’s will be a hindrance but rather serve as a motivator for the team and players. He’s excited about his team’s youthfulness and thinks they will be highly competitive whenever the puck drops for the new season.
“I think there’s going to be energy, exuberance and they’ll grow together. We’re going to make mistakes but as a staff, we’ve got to be patient, work with these guys, and go through the trials and tribulations together.”
“It’s not a crutch, it’s a motivating factor. We’re young but we’re gonna go after it. I look forward to working with the players and seeing them grow,” added McKee.
With Vernon needing a new leadership core after the graduation of Connor Marritt, Landon Fuller, and Ben Sanderson, McKee says management will decide at a later date which players will get letters this season.
“We will take our time in deciding what that looks like. The returning players know they’ll have to carry more of a leadership role this year.”
“Some of the young guys we brought in have been captains or alternate captains on their teams, that’s a good sign of character as we’ll have to get leadership from a lot of different areas. The focus is on making sure each individual is ready to go and help each other out when they can.”
There are still a lot of unknowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic but the Vernon Vipers continue to plow forward in planning for the 2020-21 BCHL season.