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Next Generation: Vernon Vipers

Presented by Chevrolet.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the 2023-24 season, we will go team-by-team to profile new players entering the league for the upcoming season, including scouting reports from the coaches.

This year, we will go in reverse order of how the teams finished last season, starting with the two clubs that missed the playoffs and ending with the two league finalists. Next up is the Vernon Vipers.


The Vernon Vipers placed sixth in the Interior Conference last year with a record of 27-21-2-4 and pulled off a first-round upset of the West Kelowna Warriors in six games. The Vipers went on to play the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the second round. They lost the series in five, but with three of the games going to overtime, the series was much closer than it looked on paper.

Head coach and general manager Jason McKee will start his fifth season behind the Vipers bench this fall. He has had a busy offseason with a number of new recruits, as well as some players acquired via trade. He introduces us to each player with a breakdown of their game.

New recruits

Luke Buss (2003, F)

  • Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
  • Previous team: Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
  • College commitment: Quinnipiac University

Buss is a familiar name to Vipers fans as he was a key member of Vernon’s 2021-22 team when he led them in scoring with 36 points and 16 goals in 48 games. He played in the USHL last year where he had 21 points in 54 games, but is returning to the BCHL in 2023-24.

McKee’s scouting report:

“I have a great relationship with Luke. We expect him to come in and play in all situations for us. He knows the league, so he knows what to expect. He’s definitely going to be a go-to guy for us next season.”

Erik Pastro (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Vernon, B.C.
  • Previous team: Okanagan Rockets AAA (BCEHL U18)

Pastro was the BC Elite Hockey League’s top scorer and Player of the Year in 2022-23 after putting up 67 points in 32 games. His 32 goals were second best in the league, while his 35 assists were sixth. In the playoffs, he was equally as good, piling up 14 points in just six games in his team’s championship run. He also played in a pair of games with the Vipers last year as an affiliate and recorded an assist.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s sneaky good offensively. It’s a really good fit for both sides. He’s a local kid getting to play for his hometown team and we get the benefit of having a local talent join our group. He’s been part of the program the last three years and now will be joining us full time. We’re really excited to have Erik.”

Adam Csabi (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Carvina, Czechia
  • Previous team: HC Energie Karlovy Vary U20 (Czechia U20)

Csabi had a busy 2022-23 season. He played junior in Finland as well as in his home country of Czechia and produced at a high level at both stops. He also represented Czechia at several U18 tournaments, including most recently at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

McKee’s scouting report:

“Adam’s a dynamic player. He’s a very good skater and loves to have the puck on his stick. He can really shoot it, but he distributes it as well. We’re looking forward to working with him on aspects that are going to help our group and help him with his own individual game.”

Bronson Ross (2006, F)

  • Hometown: Winnipeg, Man.
  • Previous team: RINK Hockey Academy Kelowna (CSSHL U18)

Ross was his team’s leading point getter last year with 91 points in 73 games across all competition. He was also the team’s top goal scorer with 44.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a big power forward and his best attribute is his shot. He’s definitely a guy that’s going to have a pro level shot soon. He’s also strong and hard to knock off the puck. He’ll still need to work on his quickness and speed, but he’s a very committed player who puts in a ton of work and has a really high ceiling.”

Lukas McCloskey (2005, D)

  • Hometown: Newport Beach, Calif.
  • Previous team: Wenatchee Wild (BCHL)

McCloskey was named to the Top Prospects Game roster during his rookie BCHL season last year with Wenatchee. He had a goal and nine assists in 46 regular-season games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a big kid who skates extremely well, has a great stick and defends. I think there’s some untapped offensive potential there as well, which he’ll get to show going into his 18-year-old season. He’s a young player still, but plays with a veteran presence. It’s definitely a big get for us.”

Maks Percic (2004, D)

  • Hometown: Maribor, Slovenia
  • Previous team: Kiekko-Espoo U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
  • College commitment: Michigan Tech University

Percic had three goals and nine assists in 32 games in Finland’s top junior league last season. He has also represented Slovenia on the international stage on multiple occassions.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a really strong kid who skates well. He’ll be very hard to play against. He’s a really competitive guy who will win puck battles. He’ll be strong along the wall as well. There will be a period of time for him to adapt to the North American game, but we expect him to come in and play a big role for us.”

Nicholas Larkin (2005, D)

  • Hometown: Nepean, Ont.
  • Previous team: Nepean Raiders (CCHL)

Larkin had the most points by any Raiders defenceman last year, notching 29 in 47 games on 10 goals and 19 assists. He was named to the Central Canada Hockey League’s All-Rookie Team at season’s end.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a puck-moving defenceman. We expect him to come in and be a part of our power play. He should be able to bring offence to our back end.”

Owen King (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Webster, N.Y.
  • Previous team: Bishop Kearney Selects (18U AAA)
  • College commitment: Providence College

In 72 games with Bishop Kearney last year, King compiled 24 goals, 26 assists and 50 points across all competition.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a right-shot centre who can play the game any way you want with the type of skillset he has. He’s a very competitive kid as well. He’s a guy that can affect the game in different ways. That’s what drew us to him, whether it was scoring a big goal, making a play or a big hit, killing a penalty, he’s a guy that has the ability to do a lot of different things.”

Georgios Stavrianeas (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Brossard, Que.
  • Previous team: Shawnigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL U18)

In his first year playing hockey out west, Stavrianeas was Shawnigan’s leading point producer with 37, their leading goal scorer with 15 and their best assist man with 22 in 28 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s an electric forward. He can really skate and get after it and he plays a tenacious style of game. He’s able to make plays and shoot the puck at a high pace. He can do a lot of things on the ice without slowing down at all. He’ll really drive our offence and our pace of play up front.”

Liam Payne (2006, F)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Burnaby Winter Club Prep (CSSHL U18)

Payne averaged exactly a point per game last year with BWC, posting 33 in 33 contests on 18 goals and 15 assists.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a 200-foot player who comes highly recommended by his former coaches. I was able to watch him a lot this year and I really like his style of play. When it mattered the most, he was at his best. He can play centre or wing. He plays in different situations. Liam is a young player that will grow with us.”

Marcello Giorgi (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Stoufville, Ont.
  • Previous team: Shawnigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL U18)

Giorgi played the past two seasons at Shawnigan Lake. He totaled 50 points in 57 games over his two years there.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a power forward with a right shot. We were able to watch him since we’ve had a number of players out of Shawnigan. We know his character and desire is going to be in the right place. He’s your typical power forward who really gets after it. He skates extremely well for a big guy. We expect him to be really good on the forecheck for us next year.”

Shea Busch (2007, F)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Yale Hockey Academy Prep (CSSHL U18)

As a 15-year-old playing on Yale’s U18 team, Busch totaled six goals, 14 assists and 20 points in 29 contests.

McKee’s scouting report:

“Shea is a good, young player. He’s a power forward with a heavy shot and has a knack around the net. He plays hard and is really good along the wall. We expect him to grow over the course of the season. He’s only going to get better with time.”

Linden Burrett (2006, D)

  • Hometown: Surrey, B.C.
  • Previous team: Delta Hockey Academy Prep (CSSHL U18)

Burrett played for Delta Hockey Academy the past two seasons and was the U18 squad’s top point producer on the back end last year with 26 points in 33 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“We were able to watch him a lot the last year-and-a-half. He’s a puck-moving defenceman who sees the game really well and anticipates well too. He should be able to break pressure with his feet and his brains. We’re looking forward to adding a player like that to our group.”

Colin Reay (2005, G)

  • Hometown: Sherwood Park, Alta.
  • Previous team: Drayton Valley Thunder (AJHL)

Reay was a workhorse last year in his rookie year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He made 43 appearances and finished the season with an 11-24-3 record and a .905 save percentage.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He played a ton last year as a 17-year-old and saw a lot of pucks. As an 18-year-old, we feel like we have a young, but veteran goalie who is just scraping the surface of what he can be. We’re happy to have him continue his development here in Vernon.”

Isaac Fecteau (2005, D)

  • Hometown: Trois-Rivières, Que.
  • Previous team: Culver Military Academy (USHS-Prep)

Fecteau was the captain of his team at Culver in 2022-23,  which was his fourth year in the program. He contributed seven goals, 11 assists and 18 points in 47 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a really hard defenceman to play against. He’s very mature and he oozes character. He’s a guy you can lean on in the hard moments of the hockey games – he’ll be there for you. Isaac will push the envelope when it comes to work ethic and making sure things are done right on a daily basis.”

Jordin Palmer (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Auburn, N.H.
  • Previous team: Avon Old Farms School (USHS-Prep)

Palmer was the captain of his team at Avon Old Farms last year, his third season with the program. He finished the year two back of the team lead in points from the blueline with 19 in 28 games.

McKee’s scouting report:

“Jordin has a left shot and skates well. He’s very poised and relaxed back there. He doesn’t get beat one-on-one very often and he doesn’t seem to panic on the ice. He’s able to stop plays from happening on defence and can make them happen with his vision on offence. He’s the type of player that coaches build trust with very quickly.

Jiri Duda (2005, F)

  • Hometown: Glen Ellyn, Ill.
  • Previous team: Chicago Reapers (18U AAA)

Duda finished third in team scoring with the Reapers 18U team last year, putting up 48 points in 55 games on 25 goals and 23 assists.

McKee’s scouting report:

“We signed Jiri early on in the process. He’s not the biggest guy, but plays extremely hard. He’s intelligent, competitive and really gets after it. He’s one of those tenacious type players that has the skill package to go with it.”

Acquired via trade

Owen Kim (2004, F)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Langley Rivermen (BCHL)
  • College commitment: College of the Holy Cross

In his second year with Langley, Kim was fourth in team scoring with 29 points in 54 games after putting up 15 goals and 14 helpers. He was acquired in a trade with the Rivermen on June 28.

McKee’s scouting report:

“He’s a tenacious guy. He’s the type of player everyone wants to have on their team, but they don’t want to play against him. He brings a nice skill package as well. He’s a veteran player who should come in and be able to play in all situations for us. He was an integral part of the trade that we made.”

Walker Gelbard (2005, F)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Langley Rivermen (BCHL)

Even though he is only 18 years old, this will be Gelbard’s fourth season in the BCHL after he made his debut in the shortened pod season with the Cranbrook Bucks in 2020-21. He has spent the past season-and-a-half with the Langley Rivermen and most recently had 10 points in 48 games last year. The Vipers also acquired Gelbard in a trade with Langley on June 28.

McKee’s scouting report:

“We think Walker is poised to break out. In talking to him, I think he’s looking for an opportunity to play more of an offensive role. I think he has the toolbox to do that. We like that he’s a right shot and can play centre or wing. He’s a very versatile guy.”


Photo credits: Dan Hickling/USHL (Buss), Tami Quan (Pastro), CSSHL (Ross, Stavrianeas, Payne, Giorgi, Busch, Burrett), Garrett James Photography (McCloskey, Kim, Gelbard), Dan Hickling (King, Fecteau, Palmer)