Once the Red Deer Vipers accept the fact that a hockey game doesn’t conclude for at least 60 minutes, they might be a dominant team in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.
Associate coaches Stephen Pattison and Sheldon Baerg are clearly confident that the Vipers have the horses to run a full mile with any team in the league.
“Most of our ties and overtime losses were games in which we didn’t play a full 60,” Pattison said on Monday, following a 4-2 win over the visiting Three Hills Thrashers.
“We dropped off for 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there. If we play 60 minutes I don’t think there are many teams that can play with us.”
As it stands, the Vipers have yet to lose in regulation time this season.
The Red Deer squad sports a 6-0-3-2 record and is tied with Three Hills for third spot in the Northern Division, trailing only the Airdrie Thunder and Blackfalds Wranglers.
Pattison and Baerg are in their first season behind the Vipers bench, with Brian Renaud back as an assistant coach.
Pattison, a Red Deer native, played one season in the AJHL with St. Albert, three seasons with Port Alberni of the BCHL and four years at Brock University. Baerg, from Burnaby, B.C., is a former goaltender with the Battleford North Stars of the SJHL and Concordia University.
Pattison, 26, stepped into coaching for the first time last winter as the bench boss of the Banff Academy midget AA team.
He also served as an assistant with the midget AAA and junior B teams.
Currently a personal trainer with Can-Pro Training Centre, Pattison knows the overall team identity he’s hoping to establish with the Vipers.
“Along the lines of what type of player I was . . . just hard-working, honest and with a lot of heart. I want guys who when you ask them to do something, they’re going to go out and work as hard as they can to accomplish that.
“I’d like a team with heart, guts and the willingness to pay a price.”
The Vipers lost in overtime at Blackfalds on Sunday, so they know they’re right there with the Wranglers.
“That was maybe the second time all season we played hard for a complete game,” said Pattison.
The Vipers have yet to run into the Okotoks Bisons and Coaldale Copperheads, the top two teams in the Southern Division, yet Pattison is confident that his squad has the depth to defeat both clubs as well as the perennially powerful Wranglers.
“We have two great goaltenders (rookies Brenden Mandrusiak and Jayden Adrian) and we have four lines we can stick on the ice, so we don’t have to worry about line changes,” said the Vipers coach.
“It’s great in the sense that we can jus roll and roll instead of having to rely on six guys a night.”
Baerg, who met Pattison while both were serving as instructors at the Banff Academy for several summers, has coached at the bantam AA level in Burnaby as well as served as a goaltending coach at the junior A and junior B levels in his home province.
“I love coaching, and especially here. We have a great group of guys. We have some talent but it’s just nice to have a group of guys who want to play,” said Baerg, who played in Australia during the 2011-12 season.
The Vipers are top-heavy in productive veterans with the likes of Kolton Gillett, Cole DeGraaf, Colton Brule, Braden Corbett and Jordan Koopmans, among others.
The Red Deer squad also has a number of impressive rookies, including defenceman Jonathan Finnigan and forward Nick Glackin, both of whom helped the Red Deer Optimist Rebels win the Telus Cup championship last spring.
Glackin, in fact, scored three goals — including the double-overtime winner — in the national midget AAA final versus Phenix du College Esther-Blondin of Quebec.
He joined the Vipers after starting the season with Okotoks of the AJHL.
“It was nice to get Glackin, we didn’t think he was coming back from Okotoks,” said Baerg.
“He and Finnigan bring a bit of swagger after winning a national championship. It’s great to have those guys. You don’t expect a whole lot from your rookies, but these two guys played midget AAA and accomplished a lot.”
Baerg is also high on the Vipers’ impressive list of returnees.
“We have a lot of character with a great group of 21-year-olds who want to have a good finishing year,” he said.
“We also have a good mix of third-year guys who know what is needed to win in this league. When they bring it for 60 minutes we’re a great team.”