Saturday, March 6, 2010

Regular Season Champion Vipers Preparing For A Deep Playoff Run:

This is posted on the BCHL website:

Regular season champion Vipers preparing for a deep playoff run

Saturday, March 6, 2010 - Submitted by Chad Klassen

Are the Vernon Vipers the best team in Junior A hockey? There are a number of factors that point to yes: they are the reigning RBC Cup champions, recent winners of the Chevrolet Cup for the BCHL's best regular season record, and enter the Fred Page Cup playoffs with a certain championship swagger as they prepare to defend their title.

“They got a taste of it, they liked what they tasted, and now they want to win another one. We’re not afraid to talk about it either. Our expectations are to win another National Championship, and anything less will be disappointing,” says Vipers head coach and GM Mark Ferner.

Vernon posted the league’s best regular-season record and won the Interior on the strength of a tremendous 51-win campaign. In the BCHL, the top teams in each of the two conferences are rewarded with a bye for their outstanding regular seasons.

“We knew we had up to 16 days off, so we've been managing our time and making sure we’re getting healthy,” Ferner says. “It’s been good for us to make sure we’re completely healthy, to make sure our conditioning is where we want it to be.”

Vernon, who earned a bye last year en route to a Fred Page Cup banner, feels that the rest will be of benefit as the playoff grind intensifies.

“Last year, I thought it was good for our group,” notes Ferner. “It’s always about, are you going to be rusty? What we’ve done is some simulation as far as game situations in practice. It’s an opportunity to get on the ice and to get better, and the only we will get better is if we compete against each other.”

The Vipers just completed another flawless regular season campaign in 2009/2010, posting a 51-6-0-3 record to finish tops in the Interior. They finished five points ahead of the Penticton Vees, who will be joining the Vernon in the semi-final round after a sweep of Merritt.

As the defending champs, they will certainly have a target on their back through the playoffs, and Penticton is one of the teams that could potentially knock them off. The Vipers and Vees would meet in the Interior Conference Final should both teams advance.

“They’ve had that target all year, they really have. We’ve played some very good hockey teams, no question about it, and we feel like we faced them at their best,” says Ferner. “Like I tell our group, we don’t care who we play, we care how we play, and if we play the way we can and are supposed to we feel we have a good opportunity to win.”

At the same time, he knows that boasting the best record in the regular season means home-ice advantage but nothing more: “Certainly this is going to be a grind through this whole thing,” Ferner says. “Regardless, you’re going to get nicked up. If you’re playing the game the way the game’s supposed to be played, you’re going to get your bumps and bruises.”

Like their Coastal counterparts in Alberni Valley, the Vipers have engaged in team-building activities to break up the training regiment. Ferner took the boys curling on Wednesday to have a good time and ease the anxiety that’s slowly been building over the last week.

“It’s a long time and I know our guys are getting antsy and practices are getting a little owly, and we still have six days to go,” he says.

The Vipers have won eight in a row entering the playoffs and have lost a mere four regulation games in 2010 – the last defeat coming in a 3-2 overtime loss in Powell River on February 4th.

“The way we play is pretty simple: we want to be a north-south hockey team, we want to get pucks in deep, we want to bang bodies, win races, and win battles. And our guys understand that. We have enough guys coming back from last year who know the expectations, what I want, and how we have to play.”

“Hopefully that kind of hockey will benefit us in a long series,” adds Ferner.

Looking ahead, if all the Interior quarter-final series are to play out according to seed, the the Vipers will start defence of their RBC Cup title against Salmon Arm or Quesnel in the second round, starting on Tuesday, March 9.

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