CORRECTION —Players pay $5,500 for the season to play for the Vipers. The amount was incorrect in the original version of this story.
David Gillespie and Joe Hoover weren't planning to play hockey this season.
But when the Vancouver Vipers — the latest incarnation of junior hockey at Mountain View Ice Arena — open the 2012-13 Northern Pacific Hockey League season on Saturday, Gillespie and Hoover will be counted on as leaders. The defensemen aren't the only ones surprised to find themselves in key roles with the Vipers.
A team that didn't exist until late August plays its first game at 7 p.m. on Saturday when the Eugene Generals visit Mountain View Ice Arena.
IF YOU GO
Eugene Generals at Vancouver Vipers
7 p.m. Saturday at Mountain View Ice Arena.
Tickets: $5, $3 with student ID.
It has been just over a month since Bob Knoerl and Keith Bemis were granted a franchise for the NORPAC. Knoerl is the manager of Mountain View Ice Arena. Bemis will coach the Vipers along with George Larkin, giving the franchise a leadership team with years of involvement with youth hockey in this region.
The Vipers replace the Vancouver Victory, who operated for one season under the ownership of Andrew Vilcauskas.
In just over a month, Bemis and volunteer Chuck Cheshire have pieced together a roster of 15 skaters and three goalies. Bemis said a roster of 23-25 players would be ideal, both financially — players pay $5,500 for the season — and in terms of forcing players to compete for ice time.
But he was pleased that his squad was competitive in three preseason games last weekend. The Vipers lost three close games, but rallied twice in each after falling behind.
"Our product's actually much better than I thought it would be," Bemis said.
It helps that the Vipers have three proven goal scorers in brothers Joe, Avik and Elijah Bordak. In three preseason games in Kennewick last weekend, they scored nine of Vancouver's 10 goals. The Bordaks, including 20-year-old Daniel, are Vancouver residents have been mainstays for the junior hockey team at Mountain View Ice Arena for two seasons.
Hoover played for the Victory last season. But the 19-year-old from Clackamas, Ore., said he wasn't planning to play organized hockey this season until the Vipers came calling.
Same for Gillespie, a 20-year-old from Bremerton who played last season for his hometown West Sound Warriors.
He played in Vancouver for the River City Jaguars two seasons ago and said Bemis and Cheshire sold him on the idea of playing one final season of organized hockey.
"This is my last season. So I wanted to play hockey, have fun and try to help the younger guys out," Gillespie said.
Both Gillespie and Hoover promise a Vipers team that is fast and exciting.
Bemis said he anticipates that more NORPAC games will be competitive this season. Seattle and Southern Oregon, two powerhouse teams last season, left the NORPAC for the Western States Hockey League.
Until the NORPAC approved the Vipers franchise last month, the league that has existed since 2000 was in jeopardy. West Sound and Eugene were the only holdover franchises for this season. The league added teams in Bellingham and Kennewick. The Glacier Nationals of Whitefish, Mont., are splitting their schedule between the NORPAC and the American West Hockey League.