The Red Deer Vipers are eager to embark on another Heritage Junior B Hockey League season.
It’s been 18 months since the Vipers last hit the ice after the 2020-21 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The club held training camp over the past week, including an intrasquad game Saturday. There has been some rust and tired bodies, but overall, everybody is happy to be back at the rink.
“It was good to see everybody out there for sure,” said Vipers second-year head coach Kyle Scott, who took over the job last year before the season was put on hold.
”Get guys back on the ice, it’s been a long time. We’re definitely missing some guys. Overall we were happy with the skates and the camp and we’re just moving forward… try to get these guys in shape because the season starts in a couple weeks.”
The first test has come up quickly, as the Vipers head to Wainwright to take on the Bisons on Saturday, in their first exhibition game of the year.
There has been some significant turnover from the Vipers roster that played on March 2, 2020, when they lost game 7 of the HJHL north division semi-final to the Sylvan Lake Wranglers.
“It’s going to be tough off the bat. We do have some new faces this year. There are quite a few guys that have chosen to go to school and not play. We have to fill those voids,” Scott said.
“Those guys were here last year, so they were guys that started to see what our systems were going to be like and now they’re gone. It’s going to be a little bit of a transition. We’re excited about the guys we have brought in and recruited this summer.”
The Vipers will travel to Wainwright Saturday with just 15 skaters and two goalies.
“We’re a little bit short on the forward side… we’re strong on the back end and our goaltending is extremely strong,” he said.
That strong goaltending will come from a familiar face. Bretton Park, who played minor hockey with the Red Deer Rebels Bantam AAA group, as well as two seasons with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, will play goal for the Vipers.
The 20-year-old played the 2019-20 season with the Columbia Valley Rockies of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. He posted a 3.48 goals against average there, along with an .891 save percentage, but was stellar in the playoffs with a 2.32 GAA and .935 SV%.
Defenceman Adam Heindel will join Red Deer as well, he spent the past two seasons with the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The Vipers return forwards are Brandon Pelletier, Rylan Burns and Austin Gallant as well as defencemen Tanner Scott, Brandon Kalinowski and Sean McGonigal. Former Red Deer Optimist Chief Mark Janes will also join the Vipers this year.
Still, the Vipers need a few more bodies at forward.
“We’re still encouraging guys that are thinking of playing to come on out and skate with us,” Scott said.
Scott added that there’s been some hesitancy among players to return to the game after being away for so long.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, COVID has affected some of these guys’ decisions for sure,” he said.
“When you’re away from the game for 18 months, it definitely has an effect on your desire to get back. We’ve been chatting with these guys about, just come back to the rink and get in the room with these guys, maybe that will spark a little bit of that competitive fire, when you hit the ice. Hopefully (they’ll) want to be here.”
The Vipers will start the HJHL regular season on Sept. 17 in Airdrie, with their first home game at Servus Arena on Sept. 18, against the Wranglers.