BCHL Next Generation: Vernon Vipers

All summer we’ll be going team-by-team to profile new players coming in for the 2020-21 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.

The forced shutdown of the BCHL Playoffs in March affected the entire league, but the teams that were impacted the most were obviously the ones still contending for a Fred Page Cup.

With the completion of Round 1 of the playoffs, eight teams were coming off a series win and feeling great about their chances of winning a championship.

One of these teams was the Vernon Vipers. They were coming off the 2018-19 season where they made it to the Fred Page Cup Finals and were preparing for a second-round date with their rivals the Penticton Vees after dispatching the Wenatchee Wild in the first round. According to the team’s head coach and general manager Jason McKee, the team was just starting to fire on all cylinders after a season that saw steady improvement from month to month.

“Teams talk about playing their best hockey when it matters the most,” said McKee. “For anybody that followed our team from September to March, I think it was pretty obvious that we were playing our best hockey in the playoffs. We felt like we were in a really good spot going into Round 2. We were a confident group playing extremely well, so it was really disheartening for our group, knowing that we were at our best. Not being able to continue that was difficult.”

Despite the heartbreak of an unfinished season, the Vipers are well-positioned to make another playoff run this year. They had a somewhat older team in 2019-20 with several 20-year-olds and other players graduating from the league, but they’ve put together a new class of recruits full of high-end talent and are ready to recapture their late-season form.

“There’s going to be a huge turnover for our team going into next year, so you really need to develop that good young core,” said McKee. “As years go on, roles expand with players from their first, to their second, to their third year. You want it to be cyclical where you just keep adding good young players to a core that’s already there. Going into next year, we have a small core coming back that we really like and really believe in, but we’re definitely going to need our young players to take on some bigger roles for next season, which is going to set us up for the long term as well.”

New recruits:

Logan Lorenz (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Consort, Alta.
  • Previous team: Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep (CSSHL)

The Alberta native was the second leading scorer in the CSSHL last season with 78 points in 33 games and finished with the most assists in the league with 49. He played in five games as an affiliate for the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a very intelligent, crafty player. He’s not the biggest guy, but makes up for it with his tremendous hockey IQ and very good anticipation. All the details of his game and his habits are very good. He was relied upon heavily on his midget team and he’s a guy that we expect to come in and contribute right away.”

Griffen Barr (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Nanaimo, B.C.
  • Previous team: Shawnigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL)

Barr came up through the Shawnigan Lake program and enjoyed a breakout year offensively last season, finishing as the top-scoring defenceman in all of the CSSHL with 42 points in 36 games. The 18-year-old already has a pair of BCHL games under his belt, appearing as an affiliate for the Nanaimo Clippers in 2019-20.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a very heavy and hard-to-play-against defenceman. In my opinion, he probably has underrated skills offensively. He has tremendous vision and can see through the layers in the neutral zone or even in the defensive zone in making good deliveries with passes. He’s a guy that has really good hockey IQ and is a really competitive player.”

Liam Cavan (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Gloucester, Ont.
  • Previous team: St. Andrew’s College (CAHS)
  • College commitment: Merrimack College (2021-22)

The Ontario native was part of a St. Andrew’s team that produced a ton of offence from the blueline last year, with four defenceman eclipsing the 25-point mark. Cavan was one of them, finishing his 2019-20 campaign with nine goals and 29 assists for 38 points in 53 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a really good skater and a really competitive player. He’ll use his feet and his vision to break pucks out. He should fit in and seamlessly transition into the BCHL with his speed and skill. His game fits really well for our league. He’s a pretty highly-coveted guy and we’re really happy to be adding him.”

Sam Duerr (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
  • Previous team: Shattuck St. Mary’s Midget Prep (USHS-Prep)
  • College commitment: University of Maine (2021-22)

Duerr spent the past three seasons with the Shattuck St. Mary’s program and piled up 36 points in 44 games with the prep team last year. He also played three games in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampeders.

McKee’s scouting report:

“Sam is a player that can play any way you want. He’s kind of a new-era defenceman. He can be physical, he skates well and he’s got a really heavy shot from the point. He should be able to come in and contribute right away in all situations, even though he’s a first-year guy. He’ll be a big piece of our back-end for sure.”

Reagan Milburn (2003, F)

  • Hometown: Kamloops, B.C.
  • Previous team: Thompson Blazers (BC U18AAA)

Milburn played for Thompson the last two years and led the team with 24 goals, 27 assists and 51 points. The 17-year-old played a pair of regular-season games with the Vipers as an affiliate last season as well as two in the playoffs.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a Kamloops kid, so he’s pretty local for us. He was able to get in some games with us and we really liked his game. He has a really unassuming demeanor. He just wants to get better. He’s got a really good team approach. His potential is high to be a very good player in the BCHL.”

Desmond Johnson (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Windsor, Ont.
  • Previous team: Chicago Mission U18 (HPHL U18)

Johnson is one of three players coming over from the Chicago Mission U18 team. Last season, he led his team in defenceman scoring with 11 points in 14 games. He also played in two games with the Springfield Jr. Blues of the NAHL.

McKee’s scouting report:

“Desmond is another very highly-skilled defenceman with great feet. He’ll use his vision and quickness to his advantage and should be able to bring a second wave of offence from the back end. He’s very mobile in the offensive zone.”

Ethan Mercer (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Slave Lake, Alta.
  • Previous team: Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep (CSSHL)

A teammate of Lorenz’s with Northern Alberta last year, Mercer contributed 31 points in 36 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a really powerful, strong kid and should play a real power-forward game. He has a very heavy shot off the wing. He should make it really difficult on the opponent with his skating ability and his size on the forecheck. He has real raw potential to be a very effective player.”

Daniel Rozsival (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
  • Previous team: Chicago Mission U18 (HPHL U18)

The son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Michal Rozsival, Daniel grew up playing hockey in Chicago, Ill where his dad won his two championships with the Blackhawks. Daniel suited up for Chicago Mission U18 in 2019-20 and tied for the second-most goals on the team with seven in 14 games. He also finished fourth in team scoring with 12 points.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s another kid that skates extremely well and he’s really tenacious on pucks. He never quits and is always working up and down the ice. He’s another guy that anticipates well with a high hockey IQ. When he doesn’t have the puck, he’s working really hard to get it back, which allows him to use his skill when he does have it.”

Ayden Third (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Regina, Sask.
  • Previous team: Regina Pat Canadians U18 AAA (SMAAAHL)

The 18-year-old defenceman came up through the Regina Pat Canadians system in Saskatchewan. Last season he totaled seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in 44 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a big, strong defenceman. His number-one asset is defending. He’ll bring some secondary offence, but he takes pride in his own end and is very diligent in his habits. It matters to him that he plays good defence and I think that’s always important that you have a couple of those types of players. We’re aware of his strengths and we like the potential for him to be a really good shutdown guy in our league.”

Nicholas Remissong (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Lake Forest, Ill.
  • Previous team: Lake Forest High (USHS-IL)

Remissong played at Lake Forest High in Illinois last year where he chipped in with four points in 12 games, but was also a part of the Chicago Mission U18 team and put up eight points in 14 contests.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s another heavy guy that plays up the middle. He’s a centreman who plays a very responsible game in all three zones. He’s a very mature young man who we’re going to look to for some leadership qualities in his first year and beyond.”

Photo credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images (Cavan, Duerr)