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BCHL Next Generation: Vernon Vipers

All summer we’ll be going team-by-team to profile new players coming in for the 2019-20 season with recaps of offseason commits and acquisitions. We will also have interviews and scouting reports from the coaches.

Next up is the Vernon Vipers.

Last season, after a fourth-place finish in the Interior Division, the Vipers rode incredible goaltending and timely scoring all the way to the Fred Page Cup finals where they lost to the Prince George Spruce Kings in four games.

With several veteran players moving on and a change behind the bench, the team’s new head coach Jason McKee is looking to implement his style of play at training camp.

“We want to be structurally sound in all three zones, have a plan of what we’re trying to do and go out there and execute it as a group,” said McKee. “We don’t want to be reckless, but we want to be as aggressive as we can be in all three zones and try to make the other team make as many mistakes as possible. In order to do that, you’re going to need to have a roster that can move around out there and you’ve got to be a really competitive group. Your decision making needs to be really crisp all the time. Those are the type of players we’ve targeted this year and will continue to look at moving forward.”

2019-20 commits

Jojo Tanaka-Campbell (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Mill Bay, B.C.
  • Previous team: Shawinigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL)
  • Commitment: Yale University (2020-21)

The 18-year-old led the CSSHL in assists last year with 55 and also led his team in scoring with 70 points in 36 games. Tanaka-Campbell played in six games for the Cowichan Valley Capitals as an affiliate and scored one goal.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a really creative centre. He’s a pass-first guy, but also has the ability to shoot and score. He’s definitely a guy that will make his teammates better around him. We lost a lot of scoring from last year and we expect Jojo to come in and help us in that area.”

Christian Felton (2000, D)

  • Hometown: Medina, Ohio
  • Previous team: Kimball Union Academy (USHS-Prep)
  • Commitment: Bentley University (2020-21)

Felton was the captain at Kimabll Union last year and chipped in with three goals and 17 assists in 33 games. He also played in eight games with the Madison Capitals of the USHL.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a big, strong kid that skates extremely well. We expect him to come in and play a really solid 200-foot game. He’s 19-years-old, so we’re expecting some consistency from him on our back end.”

Max Palaga (2000, G)

  • Hometown: Kamloops, B.C.
  • Previous team: Everett Silvertips (WHL)

After starting last season with the Vipers and posting a .943 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against in five games, Palaga joined the Silvertips where he had equally impressive numbers, finishing the year with a .942 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a veteran goalie that’s looking for an opportunity to be the number-one guy. We expect Max to be a huge part of our team. We think he’s got a lot of upside and just needs that opportunity to play on a consistent basis and we’re extremely excited to have him.”

Brett Fudger (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Prince Rupert, B.C.
  • Previous team: Cariboo Cougars (BCMML)

The 17-year-old had 40 points in 39 games last year, good enough for third on his team. He also led his team with 101 penalty minutes.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a power forward who’s a 200-foot guy. He’s a bit of a late bloomer. He had a tremendous spring camp with us and obviously had a great year with his midget team. He’s just a player that has continued to get better from year to year and we expect that to continue here in Vernon.”

Keigo Hachisuka (2001, D)

  • Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
  • Previous team: Shawinigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL)

The California native moved to B.C. to play for Shawinigan Lake for the 2017-18 season and spent the last two years there. He had 34 points in 36 games last season to lead his team in scoring from the blueline.

“He’s a very skilled, mobile defenceman with tremendous vision. He will have a great ability to break the pressure from the other team on our breakout. He does a great job of jumping into the rush and his instincts are very good.”

Cameron MacDonald (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Surrey, B.C.
  • Previous team: Yale Hockey Academy (CSSHL)

MacDonald had the second-most goals in the entire CSSHL last season with 35. He finished second on his team in scoring with 60 points in 32 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a player that’s scored at every level he’s been at. Our team will have to score by committee this year and he’s a guy that will definitely be expected to bring some offence to our group.”

Ryan MacLean (2001, D)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: West Van Academy Prep (CSSHL)

In his second year with the team, the 18-year-old led the way in defencemen scoring for West Van last season with 26 points in 35 games.

“He’s just a really steady influence on the back end. He’s a really mature young man with a lot of character and a lot of desire. We expect Ryan to contribute in a lot of different ways and to be difficult to play against.”

Ryan Shostak (2001, F)

  • Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
  • Previous team: Calgary Buffaloes Midget AAA (AMHL)

Shostak had 37 points in 34 games last season in midget to finish second on his team. He also played in a pair of games for the Calgary Mustangs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) as an affiliate.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s another reliable guy that will definitely compliment our group up front. He can play centre or left wing. He played on a team in midget that had a very successful year and those character traits are very important to us. Ryan will be a guy that can move around up and down the lineup and we were excited to be able to add him late in the offseason.”

Acquired via trade

Nicholas Kent (2001, D)

  • Hometown: Ladera Ranch, Calif.
  • Previous team: Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
  • Commitment: Quinnipiac University (2020-21)

Kent was acquired from the Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), where he started last season before joining the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. He had 15 points in 30 games with Buffalo and one assist in 24 games with Green Bay. Kent previously played in the BCHL in the 2017-18 season when he suited up for 24 games with the Wenatchee Wild and won a league championship and a Doyle Cup title.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s another puck-moving defenceman. He’s only going into his 18-year-old year, but has already played two full years of junior, which was very enticing to us. He’s a right-hand shot that can run a power play and he’s got experience in the BCHL as well. It was a good fit for both sides.”

Connor Sleeth (1999, F)

  • Hometown: Markham, Ont.
  • Previous team: Kanata Lasers (CCHL)

Sleeth was the third-leading scorer in the CCHL last season with 72 points in 62 games and finished with the most goals in the league with 33.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s proven he’s able to put up good numbers at the Junior A level. He’s looking for a fresh start in the BCHL. We’re expecting him to come in and contribute in all areas, but definitely offensively. We felt like we needed to add a centreman and he’s definitely a guy that has experience.”

Photo credits: Canadian Sport School Hockey League (Tanaka-Campbell, MacDonald, MacLean), Hickling Images (Felton, Hachisuka, Sleeth), Getty Images (Palaga), James Doyle/Cariboo Cougars Photo (Fudger), Elite Prospects (Shostak) Ryan MacAloney/OJHL Images (Kent)