For the last two seasons, the Red Deer Vipers have finished as the class of the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.
The two-time defending league champions got off to a slow start in 2018-19, with a mediocre 6-6 record.
Quickly, through the end of October and into November, they took off.
Red Deer has won eight straight games, including all seven they’ve played in November.
“We’ve been playing really well. Just took a month or so to get our style of play into some of the new guys,” said Vipers head coach JD Morrical.
“Over half the team is new players, took a little bit. It’s coming along lately, we’ve been playing really well.”
Their final game of the month comes Friday against the Stettler Lightning in Big Valley. The biggest test of the season so far for Red Deer is Saturday when they host the Airdrie Thunder at Servus Arena. Airdrie is 21-1 on the year, with 192 goals for an only 57 against.
“I’m looking forward to that one. Our lines have been set and we like the team and I think we can beat anybody,” Morrical said.
“(Airdrie) has a ton of offence and that’s the way Airdrie has always been and I think this year they have even more. We’ve always been able to find a way to beat them, with a good solid defensive effort.”
Vipers Vs Blackfalds Nov 24 2018 Highlights https://t.co/iP4UCkSdlT
— Red Deer Vipers (@RedDeerVipers) November 25, 2018
Over the successful stretch, Vipers defenceman Brody Kalinowski has led the way. Kalinowski is in his fifth season with the Vipers and has 28 points in 17 games this year. He is 10th overall in league scoring and third in defenceman points.
Veteran Mack Differenz has also been productive, with 11 goals and 15 assists. It took some time, but Differenz settled in on a line with Justin Paarup (10G, 12A) and rookie Keaton Sawicki (11G, 8A).
“We were trying different guys and trying to find the right spots,” Morrical added. “They’ve started to gel and they’ve been playing a lot of power play together. Chemistry has been developing and they’ve been able to score a little more, which has helped the team out big time.”
With nine rookies on their roster and quite a few moving up from Midget AAA to the Vipers, Morrical added it has taken a bit of time to get those players up to speed in junior hockey.
“Just have to understand our system and what we expect of them,” he said.
“A lot of guys coming up from midget didn’t really know what to expect. They get it now and know they have to work hard to get in the lineup. It’s not like minor hockey where there is only a 20-man roster. We have 24 guys and they have to work hard to get in. They started to understand the league a little better too.”
Justin Anderson has taken the reins in the Vipers net with 12 starts so far. He has a 2.35 goals against average and a 9.15 save percentage. His save percentage sits fourth among qualified goals in the league.
Puck drop when the Vipers take on the Airdrie Thunder is 8 p.m. Saturday at Servus Arena.