It wasn’t quite the way the Red Deer Vipers envisioned the provincial tournament going.
The Vipers are coming home from the Hockey Alberta Junior B Provincial championship in St. Paul empty handed after failing to earn a spot in the tournament semi finals this past weekend.
After picking up a 4-2 win over the host St. Paul Canadiens in the first round robin game on Thursday night, the Vipers weren’t able to keep the momentum going through the rest of the tournament as they finished with a 1-2 overall record.
“It had the feeling like we could have got it done but the loss on Friday was such a nail-biter and barn-burner that it kind of for some reason took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” said Vipers’ Head Coach J.D. Morrical, referring to a 2-1 loss to the Wetaskiwin Icemen on Friday night.
A late push by the Vipers sparked by a Kale Lapointe goal two minutes into the third period wasn’t enough to overcome the two goals that Wetaskiwin notched early in the round robin contest, despite the Red Deer team’s best efforts.
“We just kept putting the pressure on and just could not seem to find the tire. We hit a couple of posts right near the end of the third,” Morrical said.
The loss was a setback for the Vipers and eventually proved to be their undoing as a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the CBHA Rangers on Saturday dropped them out of tournament contention.
“We just came out really flat. I couldn’t seem to motivate the guys to dig deep and we didn’t really dig deep until five minutes left in the game when we realized it was almost too late.”
Morrical said the Vipers were prepared for a tough test at the tournament, but they just weren’t able to pick up the big victories when they needed them.
“When you get to provincials the competition is extremely tough and we knew that going in. It’s like basically playing Cochrane four times, same with Mountainview. The competition there is extremely good but our league prepares us well for it,” Morrical said, adding that heading the tournament he thought his squad had a good shot of at least making it out of their pool.
“Our pool was set up nice for us. I thought we had a great chance of getting through to the semis, at least.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for the defending HJHL champs, who went into the tournament fresh off a 3-1 series upset of the Cochrane Generals in the league final, last week.
Still, Morrical said, the team is proud of what they have accomplished this season.
“I thought it was an excellent season. It was kind of a typical Vipers year. We were in provincials last year, we got a taste of it and I know that was a big goal for the guys. Winning the Heritage League is not easy. Out of all the other leagues in the province the Heritage League and the Capital League are by far the hardest to come out of,” Morrical said, noting that in order to win their league the Vipers had to make it through four playoff rounds of varying lengths.
“Our league’s great and for us to come out as the champs was a huge feather in our caps, especially since we haven’t won it in a few years