A year after they lost in the north division final in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL), the Red Deer Vipers are back to take care of unfinished business.
General Manager Dale Scott said after training camp and the exhibition season wrapped up, an early assessment indicates the Vipers will be young but expect to be very competitive.
At this point, they have one fourth-year returnee with the rest a mixture of 12 returning players from last year’s team, which he said is the standard.
“Looks like we’ll have probably at minimum about five rookies joining us this year which is good to see. The rookies will be led by Carter Stone, Lynden Robertson, and Keaton MacKenzie-Clermont. We’re looking forward to those kids who played AAA and AA here in Red Deer last year to be a big part of our team this year,” he said.
Having a younger team has its benefits Scott said. They come into camp every year hungry and ready to compete. The game is faster and more aggressive than where they played prior but he said previously it only takes a few games before they get up to speed.
“You’re able to establish them early in their career and hopefully stay with you for four years and in years two, three, and four you just tend to be that much stronger,” he said.
Regardless of the experience, Scott isn’t worried about it and hopes to contend for a north division title and move on to the league final.
“We set very high expectations for our team year after year and this year will be no different. It’s going to be tough this year as it always is because there is always Sylvan Lake, Rocky, Mountain View, and Airdrie that were very similar teams. It’s going to be close but we expect to be vying for that north division title,” Scott said.
Last year they lost in the north division final to Cochrane in five games after a 25-8-3 regular season. The division he said is wide open for the taking and he feels his team has a good chance to be at the top at the season’s end.
The season and home opener will be on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Servus Arena against the Wheatland Kings. The team will hold a tailgate party from 6 to 8 p.m. in the parking lot of the arena.
“We’re hoping that we can get a good start and a lot of people out to the first game,” he said.
In June the Vipers announced former player Fred Jones as the new head coach of the club after coaching in Red Deer Minor Hockey for 10 years.
“Fred is very excited to get going with the season and he has a lot of experience on the bench with him. He’s got Reo Lajeunesse, Brody Kalinowski who was very recently a four-year Viper, and Cal McConnell is our goalie coach as well. We look forward to the new coaching staff taking place,” he added.
After Saturday’s contest, the Vipers will head to Ponoka to take on the Stampeders on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 2:30 p.m.