Everybody can see how powerful the Vernon Vipers will be up front this B.C. Hockey League season.
Led by muscle-bound returnees Christian Cakebread and Riley Brandt and ultra-talented Niko Karamanis, Jimmy Lambert, Steve Jandric, Jagger Williamson and Brett Stapley, the Snakes will generate plenty of offence.
The mystery remains on the back end where Mitch Oliver, Callum Volpe and Darren Rizzolo are the only returnees. They accounted for 11 goals last year with Oliver tops with 27 points and all four of his snipes on the powerplay.
“There’s only three d-man returning and there’s a lot of good players in the mix so it should be good,” said Oliver, a 19-year-old Kelowna product. “We also have to figure out what we’re gonna do for goalies, but there are some good ones here.”
Oliver, who worked in the gym and on the ice while making money at the downtown Kelowna marina all summer, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s been a good competitive camp with lots of skilled guys here vying for jobs. I have two years under Mark Ferner as head coach so I pretty much know exactly what he wants. I feel good; I wouldn’t say I feel more comfortable but I know more what to do and I try and lead by example.”
Ferner, whose crew host the Penticton Vees tonight to open a six-game exhibition slate, isn’t overly concerned with his dee corps.
“We have 13 dee in camp who we believe can play in this league,” said Ferner, moments after a morning skate Thursday. “Everybody left here (37 in camp) will get an opportunity to play in at least one of the exhibition games. It’s our job to give these kids an opportunity.”
It appears that monster Americans Shane Kelly and Cameron Kuhl will take up two import spots on defence.
Kelly is a 6-foot-4, 214-pounder from Orchard Park, Mich.
Kuhl is a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder from Clifton Park, N.Y. who knocked Kelowna product Chase Stephenson out of camp first shift Monday with a thundering hit. Kuhl attended the New York Islanders prospect camp this summer.
Defenceman Mike Ufberg of Philadelphia, a powerplay specialist, is also making a strong bid to make the team as are Chris Jandric of Prince George and Carter Stephenson of Vancouver.
The Vipers will dress seven or eight veterans tonight.
Ferner released 20 players Wednesday night, mostly 16-year-olds.
“We have some 16s who are going to play tonight and then go to Western League camps. We have 11 guys going to WHL camps.”
Vernon’s Coleton Bilodeau, whose WHL rights belong to the Moose Jaw Warriors, will play versus the Vees.
Speedy 19-year-old Nicholas Bondra left the team after checking the import numbers.
“If he was a non-import, he would have stayed,” said Ferner. “He’s going to play somewhere in the NAHL.”
Bondra is the son of Peter Bondra, who rang up 503 goals and almost 900 points in 15 NHL seasons, mainly with Washington Capitals.
“My dad retired when I was 10 so I remember quite a few games,” said the soft-spoken and likeable Bondra, after a Wednesday scrimmage. “(Jaromir) Jagr was a really impressionable guy and (Alex Ovechkin) Ovy and all those guys were great. I didn’t really realize what was going on at the time but it was fun.”
Bondra rang up eight goals and 31 points with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres last year.
SNAKE BITES: The Vipers entertain the Merritt Centennials Friday night and then visit the Cents Saturday…Toronto’s Mathew Robson, 20, has joined the Vees after spending a year practising with the Clarkson University Golden Knights in New York. Robson was sitting out after he won an appeal against the NCAA as he had signed with an Ontario Hockey League team at 16 but never played due to injury. While Robson won the ruling, the NCAA gave him a 1.5-year suspension. Robson chose to leave Clarkson to get back to playing and earn a scholarship with another school. “I’m hoping to backstop a lot of them and if they need me to steal a game here and there, that’s what I’m here for,” said Robson…Former Penticton/Portland/Kelowna G Bruno Campese has left the Okanagan Hockey Academy to scout fulltime for the new NHL Las Vegas franchise.Campese, who was the GM of the WHL Prince Albert Raiders, was contacted by Kelly McCrimmon, former GM of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who is the assistant GM of Las Vegas.