Josh Latta is all smiles at Vernon Viper practice Wednesday at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek/Morning Star)

Vipers ready for retro Saturday at Civic

For some, it’s a chance to say goodbye to an old friend. For the NOYFSS, it’s a major fundraiser

For some, it’s a chance to say goodbye to an old friend. For the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society (NOYFSS), it’s the major fundraiser of 2018.

No matter how one looks at it, the Vernon Vipers-Prince George Spruce Kings B.C. Hockey League sold-out retro game Saturday night at Civic Arena has the city buzzing.

“We’re hoping to raise somewhere north of $20,000,” said Dean Francks, director of business and fund development for NOYFSS. “We have wooden sticks for the boys to use in warm-up. We’re putting commemorative Civic Arena decals on the sticks which will be sold in the silent auction. We’re also selling the jerseys in the auction. It’s going to be a great night.”

The Vipers will pay tribute to the senior Vancouver Lions, who played the Spokane Clippers in the first hockey game at Civic, almost 80 years to the day the facility opened. Their uniforms for the night will be cream coloured with maroon – same as the Lions – and there will be a big V on the front with “Vipers” spelled out on the letter. The uniform will have a Civic Arena patch on one shoulder and the Vipers’ patch will be on the other shoulder.

Vernon’s Tom Kowal tried unsuccessfully to get the night off to referee the game. He’s scheduled to work the Calgary Flames-Anaheim Ducks tilt Saturday in Calgary.

Former NHLers Aaron Volpatti, Brent Gilchrist, Jerred Smithson, Ed Johnstone and a number of other players representing Vernon minor hockey and junior teams will be honoured before the game. Viper head coach Mark Ferner plans to wear a fedora and a ‘30s-style suit behind the bench.

“I haven’t picked out my suit yet,” laughed Ferner, whose late brother, Keith, was a goalie with the BCJHL Vernon Vikings at Civic. “We’re practising there today (Thursday) to get used to the boards and small ice. It’s going to be a home game for Prince George (who play out of tiny Rolling Mix Concrete Arena).”

Viper captain Jagger Williamson and rookie Coleton Bilodeau played minor hockey at Civic and are sticking up for the aging structure which was built for $50,000.

“It’s gonna be tough,” laughed Bilodeau. “I think it’s gonna be a lot like Merritt. You just try and get pucks deep and hope for some weird bounces in your favour. They (teammates) all think it’s a crappy old rink, but we know it’s pretty cool to play there. We’re both excited.”

On battling the Spruce Kings, who are second in the Mainland Division with 20 wins, just two points behind the Langley Rivermen, Bilodeau said the Vipers can still use their speed for success while trying to follow the bouncing puck.

“You have to respect every team in the league: everyone’s good. Anything can happen in that rink. I just hope it’s not too cold.”

The Spruce Kings open a three-game Interior road trek Friday night in Penticton and finish with a Sunday matinee in Salmon Arm. Ethan de Jong, who will join Vipers Brett Stapley and Josh Prokop in the NHL Central Scouting/Canadian Junior League Prospects Game later this month in Mississauga, leads Prince George with 12 goals and 38 points.

The Spruce Kings just added 17-year-old power forward Reid Perepeluk, who rang up a dozen points in 11 games with the Junior B Kamloops Storm after getting in four games with the Western League PG Cougars.

Vernon entertains the Merritt Centennials Friday night at Kal Tire Place to jumpstart the weekend.

Ferner, who hopes to add a forward before the Jan. 10 trading deadline, wasn’t sure where to put newcomer Josh Latta on the scoresheet.

“He’s a centre but he can play on the wing,” said Ferner, who was considering putting the former Salmon Arm Silverbacks up the middle with speedsters Keyvan Mohktari and Niko Karamanis on a dynamite third line.

Latta, a quick, skilled 19-year-old out of West Vancouver, played Pee Wee Rep under Viper assistant coach Kevin Pedersen. He also knows the Vipers well in three years of BCHL action.

“I’m just so excited to be here,” said the personable Latta, at practice Wednesday. “There’s a great group of guys. I’ve only been here three days and I can already tell it’s a special group. I hated playing against Vernon and I’m loving being on the team now.”

Latta is best known for his wheels and skill, but brings more intangibles to the table.

“I consider myself to be a hard worker at all times. I have a lot of heart so I’m not gonna back down from a rough game. Pretty much everybody here does that so hopefully, I can fit in. I want to get a scholarship and win a national championship and this is the team to do that with.”

Bilodeau also remembers facing Latta before making the Vipers out of Major Midget last summer.

“I played against him in my Midget year and I know how good of a player he is. I think he’s gonna be good for us.”

The Centennials fell 3-2 to the host Coquitlam Express in Wednesday night play.

Jack Graham (first), Troy Robillard (2nd) and Lucas Wong (2nd) handled the Coquitlam offence, while Henry Cleghorn (16th) and Bradley Cocca (6th) replied for the Cents, who are sixth in the Interior Division.

Meanwhile, the Trail Smoke Eaters shaded the Wenatchee Wild 2-1 to grab third place in the Interior, one point head of the Penticton Vees.

Tyler Ghirardosi, with his 11th of the year, and Carter Jones, with his 11th, supplied goals before 1,528 fans at Cominco Arena. AJ Vanderbeck counted his 21st for the second-place Wild.

Lucas Vanroboys registered 2+1 as the visiting Nanaimo Clippers dispatched the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 5-2 before 950 fans at Weyerhaeuser Arena. Nanaimo shifted into first place in the Island.

T.J. Friedman scored twice as the Victoria Grizzlies upended the Cowichan Valley Capitals 5-3 in front of 815 fans at the Island Savings Centre in Duncan.

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