The Red Deer Vipers have begun the 2022-23 Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) campaign almost as if they were shot out of a cannon, with plenty of momentum and a red hot start on the offensive end.
Just four games in the Vipers sit on top of the North Division with a 2-1-1-1 record, most recently a 6-5 overtime win against the Medicine Hat Cubs on Sunday. This came after a 6-3 loss to the Coaldale Copperheads on Saturday.
Head coach Fred Jones explained the team is starting to develop chemistry among their young core group of players.
“Everybody’s been working hard in practice this year recently and trying to develop a few more little systems and I’m very happy with where we’re at right now,” he said.
On Sunday against the Cubs, the Vipers went down 1-0 after the opening frame but Nate Thompson scored early in the second period to tie the game.
The Cubs scored three more goals in the middle frame to take a 4-1 lead before Andrew Wallace got the Vipers back on the board with just seconds remaining. Five minutes into the third the Cubs regained their three-goal lead but the Vipers stayed resilient and made a comeback. Carter Stone, Riley Turre, and Andrew Wallace all scored in the third to tie the game up and send it to overtime. The hero of the sudden death period was Bosten Lajeunesse and the Vipers took the 6-5 win.
Jones said the team was nervous coming into the game but once they started to produce offensively they saw some success.
“We did fall behind a little bit there and we all walked in the dressing room and we regrouped, came up with a gameplan to get back to our system and the way that we do things, and everybody came out and gave it 110 per cent,” he said.
Jones said he was hoping for a bit more out of his players to start the season. He added they haven’t been able to put out a full lineup yet but got a few more players in preparation for the games this weekend. Despite this, the Vipers have produced plenty of offence this season including a 25-1 win over the Ponoka Stampeders.
“I feel very comfortable with all my forwards here. We’ve been kind of bouncing them around to try and get some chemistry and we got a lot of guys from the minor hockey system who were goal scorers so it’s nice to see that they’re carrying it along to the junior level as well,” Jones said.
Forward Andrew Wallace leads the HJHL as the scoring leader with six goals and six assists for 12 points. Jones said Wallace is a leader on the team both on and off the ice.
“With his experience and everything he’s got at the Junior A level he’s really helping the boys along but Andy is the type of player when he really wants to play the game he’s very explosive. He really showed it this weekend against Medicine Hat where some of the guys once they got going it didn’t seem like they could touch him. He’s a very big asset to the team and with us moving forward,” he said.
Coming up this weekend for the Vipers is a matchup with the Wranglers in Sylvan Lake Friday evening at 8 p.m. at the NexSource Centre and at home on Saturday against the Rocky Rams at 8 p.m. at the Servus Arena.