Developmental-level junior hockey is back in Vancouver under new management, and with another nickname.
The Vancouver Vipers begin their 2012-13 Northern Pacific Hockey League season with three exhibition games on Friday and Saturday in Kennewick. The regular season begins next Friday.
The Vipers replace the Vancouver Victory, a franchise that lasted one season as Clark County’s junior hockey team.
The latest in a string of NORPAC franchises to play home games at Mountain View Ice Arena, the Vipers are owned by Bob Knoerl and Keith Bemis. Knoerl is the manager of Mountain View Ice Arena and Bemis is a longtime hockey coach who will be head coach for the Vipers.
George Larkin, a longtime youth hockey coach in the area, is the other coach on staff.
The league announced the ownership change on Sept. 21. The new owners began preparing for the 2012-13 season on Aug. 31 and held their first practice Sept. 5, giving them less than a month to form a roster before this weekend’s first preseason games.
The first regular-season game is at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 against Eugene at Mountain View Ice Arena.
Chuck Cheshire — who was the general manager for the River City Jaguars when that team moved from Beaverton to Vancouver in 2010 — is a volunteer player personnel director who is not involved with ownership of the team.
The Northern Pacific Hockey League is for players ages 16-20. It is one of 10 Tier III junior leagues sanctioned by USA Hockey. USA Hockey has two junior leagues considered a higher level than Tier III, the United States Hockey League and the North American Hockey League.
“I truly hope this is going to be a franchise that benefits the arena,” Knoerl said.
Knoerl said he plans to integrate a new youth hockey program at Mountain View Ice Arena with the Vipers.
The Vipers will field a roster of primarily high school age players. Players will pay $5,500 to play this season. That money pays for ice time, equipment, coaching, travel and other team expenses. The Vipers will be operated as a non-profit, Knoerl said.
As Bemis, Larkin and Cheshire work to complete a roster they hope will include 20 paying players, Knoerl is seeking sponsors and families to host players from outside of Clark County.
Knoerl said he understands that the community might question the viability of the Vipers, given the instability that has marked most of the NORPAC teams that have played at the rink in recent winters.
“I can’t change people’s perception of this franchise overnight,” Knoerl said. “Let us show (the community) some results.”
Knoerl said having an ownership group and management team with long ties to hockey in Clark County is one reason he decided to become an owner rather than remaining only a landlord. He said that having a junior hockey team is good for his rink, and for younger players who aspire to climb through the hockey ranks.
“I wouldn’t have done this if I thought we were going to fail,” Knoerl said.
Vancouver Vipers hockey
What: Junior hockey for players 16-20 years old.
When: Season runs October through March.
Preseason games at Kennewick’s Toyota Center: 3 p.m. Friday vs. Bellingham; 11 a.m. Saturday vs. Eugene Generals; 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Tri-City Outlaws.
Home games: At Mountain View Ice Arena, 14313 SE Mill Plain. First home game at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6. Ticket prices will be $5, $3 for students and seniors.
Host families needed: The Vipers are seeking homes for players during the season. Contact Biz Larkin at 360-721-6793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsorship opportunities: Contact Bob Knoerl 360-896-8700.