A successful two months of hockey has the Red Deer Vipers eyeing the top spot in the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s Northern Division as they prepare to head into the Christmas break.
The Vipers have been on an absolute tear in the months of October and November, winning 10 of their last 13 contests to put themselves in third place, just six points back of the division leading Mountainview Colts with a 14-6-0 record.
“We’ve been playing excellent lately, actually. I’ve been pretty impressed with the guys,” said Vipers’ Head Coach J.D. Morrical of his team’s play over the first two months of the season.
Morrical said the team, which finished the regular season in third place in the division last year, has been benefiting from a number of new additions to the roster, including 19-year-old forward Logan Linell, among others.
“We found a really good line for him, he’s playing with a line that he played with in Midget. They’ve known each other for a long time, they’re all the same age,” Morrical said.
In seven games with the team this year, Linell has garnered a trio of goals and nine assists for 12 points. Meanwhile his linemates, Declan Johnston and Mack Differenz, have 22 and 18 points respectively.
“We actually have two lines right now that are very dangerous offensively, which takes a little pressure off of (leading scorer) Kale Lapointe.”
With that kind of offensive threat at his disposal, Morrical said he is confident the team will be able to catch up with the two leading teams in the division in the Colts (16-3-2) and the Airdrie Thunder (15-4-2).
“We’ve beaten the top two teams in the South Division in the last two weeks, so we know we’re right there. Our goaltending has been phenomenal lately too, so that’s not really a concern for us. The best part about it is we play Airdrie two more times and we play Mountainview three more times. So our destiny is kind of in our own hands now.”
If the Vipers can catch up to the leaders in the next few months, it will put them in good position to make a push for the coveted HJHL championship, which has been the goal all season long.
“We actually might add a couple more guys here that want to come back, so that will help us out a little too. It’s a tough time of the year when we’re trying to finalize our roster and there’s guys coming back. But it’s good. I makes our players battle for their spots and it makes them earn it,” Morrical said, adding that everyone on the team has responded really well to that pressure.
Beyond the play on the ice, Morrical noted the Vipers are finally started to settle into their new home at the Collicutt Centre.
“It’s a little bit different. It took some getting used to. Our first few home games we weren’t very sharp because it’s just a different atmosphere from the old Red Deer Arena,” he said, adding that attendance in the new building, while not fantastic, hasn’t been too bad.
“I would say that it’s similar to when we played at the Arena. When we play games in our own conference like Stettler and Ponoka and Blackfalds we’ve been getting some pretty good fans. Some of the guys will stand by the corners and stuff like that. So it does feel pretty full. It’s pretty good.”
The Red Deer Vipers will play their next home game on Dec. 3rd when they play host to the Mountainview Colts at the Collicutt Centre. Puck drop on that one is at 8 p.m.