After the Arsenault’s Fish Mart Western Red Wings ended their seven-year reign as Island Junior Hockey League champions in April, the Vipers are anxious to return to action.
“Our goal is to win an Island championship, and we want to get back there,” said Vipers head coach Wade Waddell. “Winning is a lot better than losing, and the taste of losing makes me want to win again.”
The Vipers begin that journey on Sunday at 7 p.m. The Red Wings, who defeated the Vipers 3-0 and 5-4 in pre-season action, will visit Community Gardens in the regular-season opener.
“We have had some turnover, and we are looking at a younger team for sure,” offered Waddell. “We have subtracted some quality players, but we’ve also added some quality players. It’s going to be fun to start.”
Waddell said the Vipers, who have around “12, 13 returnees,” still have 25 players in camp and face some tough decisions, especially up front.
With the graduation of Grant Grady, rookie Caelan Ferguson and returnee Cameron Visser will form the Vipers’ goaltending tandem.
“Cam has played a supporting role to Grant the last few years,” added Waddell. “At the end of the day you look at Cam’s stats from last year, he was 10-3, he had a save percentage of over .900, and .900 is kind of the benchmark in the Island Junior Hockey League. . .
“They both played an exhibition game, and both played well. It is early, but I like what I see for the most part.”
Waddell and longtime assistant Trent Leard will look to the blue-line unit of Lucas Homan, Jesse Jay, Keegan Buchanan, Tyler Gallant, Ryan McKenna and Parker Ronahan to support the goaltending duo.
Waddell feels the Vipers will be strong up front.
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“We lost Jordan Mayhew as an overage, but we are really deep up front,” said Waddell. “We have Easton Smith, who is a four-year guy and probably one of the fastest guys in the league; Campbell Gallant, who is a proven goal-scorer in this league; last year’s rookie of the year Logan Vandervelden, who I think should challenge for a scoring title this year, and Riley Gallant, who to me was probably our best forward in the playoffs last year. Riley is a second-year guy, and we also have Nick Bouchey, who we didn’t have for the latter part of the year as he was away in Germany for school.”
Overall, Waddell is expecting “a tight league” this season.
“One difference in the league is there are only three teams in New Brunswick, so we decided to double up the interlocking games,” explained Waddell. “We are going to play four games against them instead of two. We will play two away and two at home. We are looking forward to that, and the interlocking is a breath of fresh air for our league.”