After a brief stint at the helm of the Junior B Red Deer Vipers, former player JD Morrical now has full control of the ship and his first challenge he figures he’s facing is his age.
“For me being fairly young, breaking the barrier between friends and being their coach,” said the 25-year-old former Vipers captain.
He says most of the 18- to 21-year-olds on the team have played the game at a high level at some point and so they know what needs to be done.
“It’s just more or less helping them out with little things we see from the bench and from watching the other teams play.”
Helping him behind the bench will be a couple of veteran hockey players in the form of Cor Odegaard and Brennen Francon who both have gone through the hockey wars and should be able to get the respect of the current roster.
It was a tricky start for Morrical’s coaching career last spring as he had a half a practice with the Vipers after the coaching staff was let go just before the playoffs started, lasting one round and losing out to Three Hills.
It was enough of a taste for Morrical to notice what may have been missing on the ice with the Vipers.
“We noticed they had some real funky defensive zone systems the guys weren’t liking and I guess they tried to do it all year.”
So with all three coaches taking over being very much defense-oriented the Vipers will be tougher in their own end and make it easier on the players instead of complicating things, he said.
In his mind the forwards suiting up this year have enough skill and knowledge but there likely won’t be much instruction involved when it comes to offence but there is work to be done when the puck is in their own end, he said.
“That’s our main goal, to keep the puck out of our net. A lot of the games they won last year were 9-8, 7-6, that sort of thing. We all like winning games 2-1, 1-0. Tough defense will be the key for sure.”
The Vipers will start their regular season Sept. 26th against Okotoks and Morrical feels he and his staff will have enough time to install their system and get a good look at how the players are adapting to it during the exhibition games.
“We’ve already got the team down to a reasonable number so we don’t have a lot of guys sitting out during exhibition games. So with five exhibition games and the majority of players playing in those games likely being on the team, I think we’ll have plenty of time to get everything ready against Okotoks.”
One area he plans to focus on is ridding the team of what he perceived as some separation within the Vipers’ dressing room.
“There was a group of guys that were buddies and there was another group of guys and they weren’t a team. One of my biggest goals for the start of the season is to bring them all together and be a 22-man team and not a bunch of individuals.”
The natural rivalry with Blackfalds is one Morrical is very familiar with having battled the Wranglers for years as a player.
“When I played we either beat Blackfalds in game seven or they would beat us in game seven in the north final,” he said. “Pretty much every year it would be a war and it was all of our buddies playing against each other. Good friends off the ice but hated playing against each other.”
He’s going to have a different view this season from behind the bench but it will likely be the same feeling.