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A Stick Tap

All of Junior Hockey was unexpectedly stopped recently.  In a heartbreaking, but logical decision Hockey Canada cancelled the remainder of the BCHL playoffs.  In doing so, the junior careers of 20 year old hockey players unceremoniously came to an end.  So here is a stick tap to the six 20 year old Vernon Vipers and their accomplishments.

Connor Marritt – #12 (Captain) – Kelowna, BC

What can you say about Connor Marritt?  A captain, a leader, a Viper.  There are a handful of players through the years that embody what it means to be a Viper.  Over 3 years (and 1 game as an AP) Connor suited up in 201 regular season and playoff games.  His 201st and final was a 3 point effort as his team eliminated the Wenatchee Wild in 5 games.

“It was an honour to be a part of such a prestigious franchise.” says Marritt.  “I grew up watching the Vipers play and to wear the ‘C’ was a childhood dream.”

He finished his career with 43 goals and 75 assists for 118 points.  The hard work his showed every night was a key reason Northern Michigan University had interest and committed to him for next season.

When asked about what it all means to him as he reflects on the conclusion of the Junior part of his career, “I was lucky enough to be placed in the perfect billet house and felt like a part of their family from day one.  Most of my cherished moments come from the bonds and friendships I have made.”

Connor finishes by saying, “I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who made my dream of being a Viper possible.”

Landon Fuller – #2 (Assistant Captain) – Williams Lake, BC

An intimidating opponent and fierce competitor on the ice, an absolute fan favourite and respectful young man off the ice.  Landon Fuller was the epitome of a hard nose player who was a loyal teammate who would drop the gloves, throw a big body check and as his final season would show, could score some timely goals.

He came to the Vipers for his final two seasons of Junior hockey and immediately fit in.  Last season he was a big component on the teams run to the Fred Page Cup Final and this season was the straw that stirred the drink.

“The past two years in Vernon was the most fun I’ve had in Junior hockey,” says the Williams Lake product.  “The memories I’ve gained with my time there is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Fuller bounced a round during his career starting with Tri-City of the WHL before splitting a season with Salmon Arm and Surrey.  He would spend a season in Coquitlam before being acquired early in the 2018-19 season by the Vipers.  He is a veteran of 237 games split between the dub and the BCHL.  He finished his career with 15 goals and 29 assists.  10 of those goals came in his final season.

He thanks his teammates, coaches, billet families and all the Vernon fans for making his experience a great one.

When asked what he’ll miss most…”I will miss coming to the rink everyday with my teammates and play the game we love.  But I am happy I was able to finish my junior career in Vernon.”

Dawson Holt – #16 (Assistant Captain) – Regina, SK

You never know what you’re going to get when a 20 year old WHL player come into the fold.  In Dawson Holt’s case, the Vipers couldn’t have been happier with what they received.  An absolute force in the face off circle, while shorthanded, on the powerplay and every all around category.

“Coming into the Vipers organization, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but from top to bottom it was a class organization and I am so grateful for my time as a Viper,” says Holt.  “I can’t thank my teammates, coaches, billets, owners and all the fans for making my last year of junior the best one yet.”

He finished the season with 23 goals and 24 assists in the regular season before adding another 9 points in the playoffs.  Between his time in the WHL and BCHL he accumulated 283 games played.

When asked about the final stretch and the unexpected end of the season, “It’s extremely sad it had to end the way it did, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to play in Vernon.

Jackson Caller – #5 – Kamloops, BC

A team doesn’t have success without a solid, dependable and physical presence on your blueline.  Jackson Caller checked all those boxes and a bit more when he joined the group from the WHL.  His passion and preparation did wonders for the younger Vipers who realized quickly what it took to be junior hockey players.

“I’ve learned so much and it’s been an experience of a lifetime,” says the Kamloops native.  “I’m just very grateful to have had the opportunity to play junior hockey at a high level.  They’ve been the best years of my life.”

Caller was also able to contribute offensively as well scoring a career high 5 goals and contributing with 12 assists.  Two of those goals came on the power play.  He was essentially an iron man for the team getting into all 55 regular season games and 5 playoff games.  He finishes his junior career with 277 career games played.

“I give thanks to all of the people involved during my career from coaches, billets, teammates and family, but most of all my parents.  I couldn’t have done it without them.”

A quote that Jackson keeps close to him comes from a movie you may be familiar with.  “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

Connor Sleeth – #15 – Markham, ONT

Every junior hockey player is looking for an opportunity at the next step, that was most definitely the case for Connor Sleeth who joined the Vipers after playing for the Kanata Lasers in the CCHL.  Sleeth rang up 74 points with the Lasers and hoped to build that into a scholarship.

The Markham Ontario product took those skills and applied them to be a solid force in the faceoff circle and a great ability of shutting down the opposition.  Most importantly was the chance to play in front of a fan base as great as Vernons.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys or organization to spend my final year of Junior hockey,”  says Sleeth.  “It wasn’t the ending we all imagined but the memories and friends that were made this year will last a life time.

Sleeth was as close to an iron man as it comes playing in all but one regular season game and all 5 post season games.  The one he missed was due to an unfortunate suspension for the 2nd goalie interference penalty back in September.  He was durable, hard working at and the end of the year able to find the scoring touch with 2 goals in the playoffs.  A nice cap to a nice junior career.

In closing he says, “Thank you to the staff, fans, billets and my teammates for the best year of my life.”

Matt Kowalski – #7 – Vernon, BC

One of the more gifted players we’ve seen in a long time, Matt Kowalski had the opportunity few ever get and thats to finish their junior career playing for the team he grew up watching.  Learning from former captain Jagger Williamson and embracing each and every moment.

Kowalski led the Vipers in offense including an extraordinary 17 game point streak, which flew past his previous career high.

“It felt pretty amazing to look around and see friends and family in the crowd cheering us all on,” says Matt.

When asked about big moments, “The teddy bear toss games were phenomenal.  Setting up Jaggy for his first teddy bear toss goal in his last year.  He wanted it so bad it felt good to be a part of that moment for him, then to put it home in my last year was really special.”

But the moments didn’t stop there.  It was obvious from the start of the season a bond with JoJo Tanaka-Campbell and younger brother Seiya.  “It was a pretty cool thing to set up JoJo and Seiya’s first goals for their career.”

Who could forget the “Michigan” or “lacrosse-style” goal that brought the fans to their feet.

Kowalski’s final year saw him finish 6th in the BCHL in scoring with 26 goals and 36 assists for 62 points.  He was also the only Viper to have played in all 58 regular season games.

This year was to be a year of 2nd chances as he shared with us, “It was a pretty wild time getting to the finals after being traded here and it was unfortunate to see what I thought could’ve been another fun run come to the way it did.”

To all the 20 year olds, a stick tap, and all the best in the future.  Once a Viper, always a Viper.