Red Deer Viper Mack Differenz is back with the team again this season and will likely make a huge impact on their top six forwards. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Red Deer Vipers gearing up to defend title

Much like the venomous snake in the wild, the Red Deer Vipers are used to being hunted.

After all the Vipers are situated in the largest city in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League and often draw the ire of opposing teams.

Fresh off a HJHL title, the Vipers expect the pressure and the target to grow as the new campaign gets closer.

Head coach JD Morrical said the team is always a target and expects it to be larger this year becuse they won the league last season.

“It will be kind of fun as a coach to use that as a tool to get the guys back down to reality,” he said. “It’ll help remind them how much work they had to put in last year to get that goal.”

Tack on the return of 20-year-old netminders Branden Bilodeau and Cole Sears combined with three of their top five scorers in Logan Linnell, Mack Differenz and Declan Johnson, there will be some venom in their bite again this season.

That was evident in the Vipers first two pre-season games on the weekend, with two wins and 11 goals. Morrical expects offence to be a calling card for his team once again.

“I always try and take the exhibition as serious as I can because we try and get ready for the season … our top six forwards are going to be pretty dynamic.”

Brody Kalinowski and Dalton Angeltvedt will also be back once again on defence for the Vipers.

Morrical said the team’s backup plan is netminder Dusten Hoogkamp, 17 because some Junior A teams have inquired about Sears and Bilodeau.

“He played the whole game against Three Hills and he didn’t get a lot of work but he looked really good,” Morrical said.

With a few new additions, including Aidan Wilson on forward and Keagan Kingwell on the backend, the Vipers head coach likes the chances of a repeat in 2017-2018.

Kingwell, a Red Deer native had 27 points in 34 games last season with the Fernie Ghostriders of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

Last year the Vipers had a regular season record of 25-12-0-1 and beat the Cochrane Copperheads in triple overtime in Game 4 of the best-of-five league final last year.

The Vipers will welcome the Wainwright Bisons to town on Saturday for an exhibition game with puck drop set for 8 p.m. at the Collicutt.

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