Red Deer Vipers win second straight HJHL title

The Red Deer Vipers are once again the class of the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.

Red Deer topped the Coaldale Copperheads 4-2 on Sunday night at the Servus Arena to win the best-of-three series in Game 3 and clinch their second consecutive league title.

“Since we had so many guys returning, the message we sent got through easily. They knew what we were expecting and we had great leaders. They held these guys accountable,” Vipers head coach J.D. Morrical said.

“It was easy to get them motivated and get them going. Sometimes it’s hard to repeat but they wanted to real bad.”

The Vipers relied on their offensive punch to win the series, with 12 goals in three games and 10 in their two victories. Morrical said along with speed, their ability to fill the net was the difference in the title defence.

“Once we got playing back at our speed and our pace, we were able to dictate the play,” Morrical said.

“Coaldale is an excellent team, I think they will do very well at provincials. Luckily, our offence was our biggest asset, we were able to score when we needed to.”

In a back-and-forth contest Sunday, it was the Copperheads who struck first in the opening frame when Ryan Tessemaker deposited a rebound past Vipers netminder Branden Bilodeau.

With just 46 seconds left in the first, Ben Shushkovsky responded for Red Deer after he tapped in a loose puck on the power play to tie the game.

Coaldale scored early in the second to take the lead, but Vipers veteran Logan Linnell took over the game and notched a natural hat trick.

The 20-year-old buried a rebound on the power play midway through the second, then burst down the wing shorthanded and buried a wraparound on Copperheads goalie Nolan Berner.

He completed the hat trick late in the third when Kayson Gallant took a shot on a 2-on-1 and the rebound bounced right to Linnell.

“I think it was a little relief. They were so close to tying it a couple times. To get that go-ahead goal was really nice,” Linnell said.

Morrical added that winning the league title has been the focus for the team since day one and with virtually the same leadership group as last year, they were able to get it done.

Without one of their top scorers in Aiden Wilson, several different players also stepped up to play a big role for Red Deer, including Linnell who notched a hat trick in the deciding game of the series.

“Just to see some of the guys step up, it’s just massive,” Morrical said.

“We had a lot of the same guys from last year, but we had a lot of different guys fill the exact roles we need to. It was a tight series, Coaldale played us extremely tough, luckily we were able to get a couple more than they did.”

Bilodeau was a steadying presence in the Red Deer net, turning aside 37 shots in the victory.

The Vipers will head to Fort St. John B.C., this week for the Hockey Alberta Junior B Provincials. Morrical said last season after the league title win against Cochrane, they weren’t quite ready for provincials. He expects it to be a different story this year.

“This is awesome, but provincials are the end goal and we want to make sure we’re ready to go for that,” Morrical said.

“We just have to find our edge early. Last year we didn’t have any rivals there and it was hard to get our fire going. If we can come with an attitude right off the bat, I think that will help.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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