By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the LaSalle Post on September 22, 2017.
Photo: Ste-Cecile International Academy students enjoy the LaSalle Vipers’ home opener tailgate party with mascot Vinny the Viper outside the Vollmer Recreation Complex last Wednesday. DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST
(LASALLE, ON) – The LaSalle Vipers junior hockey club is back in action!
The Vipers celebrated a 6-2 win against the defending Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League Western Conference champions, the London Nationals, to open home on-ice festivities for their 10th season in LaSalle.
The two foes went back and forth for two periods before the Vipers hit the accelerator in the final stanza and ran away with the victory.
London struck first only three minutes into the game with a goal by Kyle Dawson, before newly minted Vipers’ captain Eric Kirby rifled a long shot past Nationals’ goalie Jukka Schotter to knot the game at 1-1.
Less than a minute into the middle act, Vipers’ Brett Vorshuk gave the home side their first lead of the game. He was answered by London’s Max Vinogradov.
The final period was all Vipers.
Vorshuk retook the lead with a highlight blast only seconds into the third, followed by insurance markers from Tyler Russell, Manny Silverio, and Broden Meloche.
Dershahn Stewart was solid in net, turning aside 30 of 32 shots in the win.
Photo: LaSalle Vipers’ goalie Dershahn Stewart makes a breakaway glove save during last Wednesday’s home opener against the London Nationals at the Vollmer Recreation Complex. DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST
“It was a close game … even in the third when we were scoring,” said Kirby after the game. “We just found ways to put in our chances in the third and that was the difference maker.”
The Vipers made the best of their opportunities and were excited to share their first win of the season with the hometown crowd.
“You always want to win at home, in the first place, and for it being such an energetic game in the home opener – it was just a really big win today,” explained Kirby. “It was really exciting, [I’m] really happy about it.”
To Vipers’ head coach John Nelson, the team is still learning how to win.
“We have a lot of new players, we’re focusing on ourselves – we’re focusing on what we need to do as a team,” he stated.
“We are still in that learning phase, like all the other teams, but a few things we really have to work on are: executing what our plan is and we have to play with more urgency everywhere – all over the ice.”
“Once we learn to have that consistency of bringing that every game, then I think we’re going to bring their own success.”
This year’s edition of the Vipers will be led by four-year veteran Eric Kirby.
After overcoming a potential career-ending injury prior to last season, Kirby has battled back to not only regain his place with the team but has gained the key leadership position.
“[Eric’s] a character guy,” offered Nelson. “He’s a guy who brings it every practice, brings it every game.
“His off-ice leadership skills are excellent and he’s the type of kid that went through some adversity in his personal life last year, with the accident he was in, and, to me, when a fellow like that makes it back that year, for the severity of his injury … that just shows the type of person that he is and the type of perseverance that he carries in his life.”
“I am just trying to act in the same footsteps as the captains before me,” stated Kirby.
“From Brett Langlois to Nathan Veres to Nathan Savage last year, they’re great guys I learned a lot from and look up to, so it’s nice to be spoken in the same sentence as those guys.”
Kirby’s assistant captains are veterans Manny Silverio, Tyler Russell, and Frank Zak.
Much like the start of the 2016-17 season, in which the Vipers finished first in their conference, the locals are not exactly off to the races.
With a fairly young team that has faced a lot of turnover from last season, LaSalle has suffered three consecutive road losses to begin the year.
Prior to their win against London, the Vipers dropped games to the Golden Horseshoe’s Ancaster Avalanche and the Midwestern Conference’s Listowel Cyclones at the GOJHL’s season-opening weekend in Brantford.
A day after the win last Wednesday, the Vipers headed east to visit the Leamington Flyers and were thumped by an 8-3 score.
“It was a learning experience for a lot of the guys and I know we’ll get better because of that game,” said Nelson.
“We just need to take those learning experiences and we need to learn from them and move in the right direction.”
Zak, Russell, and Vorshuk scored against the Flyers while Stewart and rookie James Walker split the loss in net.