The Vernon Vipers raised one 2014 RBC Cup banner to the rafters of Kal Tire Place on Saturday night; they hope another will join it 12 months from now.
The Vipers, who will welcome the nation’s top teams for Canada’s National Junior A Championship next May, hoisted the RBC Cup host banner prior to their B.C. Hockey League home opener against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
As part of the pre-game ceremony, the Vipers brought back one player from each of their six national championship-winning teams to help raise the banner – Duane Dennis (1990), Terry Klapstein (1991), Brian Finch (1996), Lennie Rampone (1999), Chris Crowell (2009) and Kevin Kraus (2010).
Klapstein, Rampone, Crowell and Kraus all wore the ‘C’ as Vernon captain for their respective teams.
Unfortunately for the 1,725 in attendance, it was the visiting Silverbacks who earned the victory, scoring a 6-5 double overtime win to sweep the home-and-home with the Vipers after a 6-1 victory in Salmon Arm on Friday.
Jason Bird, Mark Hamilton, Craig Martin, Dexter Dancs and Mason Blacklock scored the goals for Vernon, which led 3-1 midway through the game but needed Blacklock’s goal with 18 seconds left to force overtime.
“Our breakdowns turn into goals,” Vipers associate coach Kris Mallette told the Vernon Morning Star after Saturday’s loss. “At this point in the season, you try to limit those as much as possible, but with the parity in this league, when you screw up they’re going to make you pay. “The effort was there, we just have some work to do.”
It’s the second year in a row the RBC Cup host team has lost its home opener in overtime; the Summerside Western Capitals dropped a 5-4 decision to Pictou County last season, but rebounded to post a 26-1-3 home-ice record in the regular season and playoffs.
The home opener was the Vipers’ fourth game of the young season; Vernon earned a win and a tie at the season-opening BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack, beating the defending league champions, the Surrey Eagles, 7-3 in its 2013-14 curtain-raiser before skating to a 1-1 draw with the host Chiefs.
Ten players return from the 2012-13 edition of the Vipers, which missed out on the postseason. Vernon has been without playoff hockey in back-to-back seasons after appearing in a record three consecutive RBC Cup championship games from 2009-11.
The Vipers should be one of the biggest RBC Cup host teams in recent memory, with defencemen Ryan Renz (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), Michael Statchuk (6-0, 205), Josh Bryan (6-2, 205), Mark Hamilton (6-3, 220), Kenny Citron (6-1, 210) and Spencer Morse (6-4, 200) joined by big-body forwards Mason Blacklock (6-2, 200), Matty Saharchuk (6-3, 195), Dexter Dancs (6-2, 205), Dallas Calvin (6-5, 210), Liam Coughlin (6-4, 202) and Brendan Persley (6-1, 205).
“If you take up more ice, good things are going to happen,” Vernon head coach and general manager Jason Williamson told the Morning Star during training camp. “If you look at the NHL and the teams that are winning now, like the Chicago Blackhawks, they’re big, hard, grinding teams.
“I really want our team to have the identity that they’ll be skilled, but some games that’s not going to be there. I want other teams to realize it’s going to be a battle.”
The 2014 RBC Cup will be the 10th time the Vipers will appear at Canada’s National Junior A Championship, extending its own record (no other team has more than six). In addition to its record six national titles, Vernon holds all-time marks for wins (35) and goals (230) in national championship history, and it is also one of just eight hosts to win, hoisting the Centennial Cup on home ice in 1990.