The Red Deer Vipers are heading into the Christmas break on a high note after winning five of their last six games in December.
As the first half of the HJHL regular season draws to a close this week, the Vipers (19-8-1) find themselves in a tight race for first place in the Northern Division with the Airdrie Thunder (20-6-2) and Mountainview Colts (21-3-2), in part thanks to that recent run of important wins.
“One of the big things we talked about was making sure we had a solid finish because we all kind of needed a bit of a break,” said Vipers’ Head Coach JD Morrical of his team’s play this month, which included a 7-1 win over the Blackfalds Wranglers this past Saturday.
Morrical said one of the good things about those wins was that many of them were against other teams from the North Division.
“To only lose one of them was pretty good. We shouldn’t have even lost the game that we lost but that stuff happens sometimes. We’ve been playing really solid, we’ve been coming together as a team. Our offense has been way better, I think that’s resulted in a couple of wins as well.”
All season long, the Vipers have proven to be very good at picking up points against divisional rivals. In fact, according to the HJHL web site, the Red Deer team has only lost five times in regulation against Northern Division opponents all year. That’s out of 15 matchups.
They continued that trend into December, too. After kicking off the month with a close 5-4 loss to Mountainview in overtime, the team followed up with wins over Ponoka, Three Hills and Airdrie.
That last one was especially important as it allowed the Vipers to pick up a huge two points on the HJHL’s second place team, meaning they only sit three points behind the Thunder heading into the New Year.
“A game where we beat them 6-1 was a huge boost for the guys because we’ve had a tough time with them,” Morrical said, adding that this season, the division has been extremely competitive.
“This year our North Division’s way tighter. Blackfalds, before Saturday, was only one point behind us and Stettler’s an above .500 team and they play better than their record shows. Every game in our division’s actually pretty tough.”
The key will be to continue their momentum through the last two months of the regular season, as the close division will only heat up as playoffs draw closer.
“The focus is to really keep doing what we’re doing,” Morrical said, adding that the break will be a good opportunity for his guys to rest and heal up for the home stretch, something that will be especially important considering the fact that they will have to play Mountainview — who are second in the league in points and goals for — twice in January.
“We’ve got 10 games left, so we can’t really drop any of them if we want to get that first or second spot. It’s just going to be doing what we’re doing and just make sure we’re up for every game.”
The Red Deer Vipers will be back in action on Jan. 4th when they travel to Didsbury to take on the Colts. They will follow that up with a stretch of four straight home games beginning on Jan. 7th against Ponoka at the Collicutt Centre. Puck drop on that one is at 8 p.m.