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Although the Kensington Vipers have experienced their share of ups and downs, head coach Wade Waddell is pleased with the team’s upward trend during the 2020-21 Island Junior Hockey League (IJHL) campaign.
“It’s been a fun year,” said Waddell. “We have put ourselves in a position where we are playing our best hockey, I think, with the exception of one or two games the last month.”
When the Vipers play next is unknown. Following Saturday’s announcement of circuit-breaker measures for P.E.I. that will be in effect until March 14, the IJHL announced there will be no more regular-season games played. If and when approval is granted, the league will begin its playoffs.
The Vipers and the Sherwood-Parkdale Metros battled for second place all season. The Metros recorded a 3-1 win over the Vipers at Kensington’s Credit Union Centre on Friday, Feb. 26 to open up a two-point lead. However, the Vipers, who played three fewer games than the Metros, have been awarded second place and home-ice advantage in the opening-round playoff series based on a better winning percentage – .565 for the Vipers and .538 for the Metros.
The Metros are 13-11-2 (won-lost-overtime losses) in 26 games while the Vipers have a record of 13-10-0 in 23 games.
“We have started a strong rivalry with Sherwood, which has been a lot of fun,” said Waddell. “It’s probably the best rivalry we have had in a long time, and we are two closely-matched teams.
“We know we are going to be playing them in the playoffs.”
The first-place Arsenault’s Fish Mart Western Red Wings (21-2-0) will meet the Hynes Paving Maniacs (1-23-0) in the other semifinal series.
The 2020-21 edition of the Vipers has nine rookies in their first year of junior eligibility playing regularly. Two of those freshmen, Duncan Picketts and Dixon MacLeod, graduates of the Kensington Monaghan Farms Wild major under-18 program, are tied for the team lead in points with 23.
“The progression (of the young players) has been unreal,” said Waddell. “Dixon MacLeod came in, and he’s been outstanding.
“Another player who came in and was supposed to be more of a checking guy is Duncan Picketts, who is leading our team in goals this year (with 15). He has been phenomenal and is arguably our MVP this year.”
An elite-level baseball player, Picketts has signed to play ball at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa next year. Waddell said that news brought on mixed emotions.
“I am so happy for Duncan, but at the same time, it hurts my heart to know he will not be wearing the Vipers’ colours next year,” said Waddell. “I see Duncan as a future MVP in this league.”
Defenceman and team captain Tyler Gallant is in his fourth full season with the Vipers after playing some as an affiliated player while playing under-18 hockey. Gallant, who is from Cornwall, said the Vipers’ recipe for success is a simple one.
“When we are successful, we are working hard with the forecheck, playing hard, finishing our hits and being responsible defensively. We have two strong goalies (Jonah Arbing and Mavrick Goyer), and they are helping us out every night.”
Gallant said another important part of the Vipers’ success is playing a complete game.
“It's rare we put up eight or nine goals a game,” said Gallant. “Everything we get is from hard work.”
Waddell is pleased with the Vipers' improvement throughout the season. He noted the most growth, except for a couple of games against the league-leading Red Wings, has been in the area of team defence.
“We are a defensively-sound team, a very physical team, and we have improved tremendously over the last six weeks,” Waddell told the Journal Pioneer in a recent interview. “The team enjoys being around each other. We are having a lot of fun right now.
“This is the time of year when the heart starts beating a little faster as you get closer to playoff time, and the games mean a little bit more.”
Gallant agreed with his head coach, adding the Vipers have been focused on developing good habits as it entered the stretch drive.
Asked about the matchup with the Metros, Gallant said it won’t be easy.
“Every game we play against them it’s an all-out war,” said Gallant. “There is a lot of emotion in those games.
“We are two tight-checking teams and it comes down to who is more responsible and who can put the puck in the net those nights.”
Kensington Vipers’ team leaders:
- Goals – Duncan Picketts, 15.
- Assists – Brett Ballum, 16.
- Points – Duncan Picketts and Dixon MacLeod, tied with 23.
- Goals-against average – Jonah Arbing, 2.57.
- Save percentage – Mavrick Goyer, .940.
Jason Simmonds is the Journal Pioneer's sports reporter.