Vipers hockey begins building with player evaluations

Vancouver team hosts camp for players age 15-20

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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In an effort to strengthen their identity as a Clark County sports fixture, Vancouver's junior hockey team is hosting an evaluation camp Sunday through Tuesday at Mountain View Ice Arena.

Rebranded as the Fort Vancouver Vipers, the club is preparing for the 2013-14 Northern Pacific Hockey League season scheduled to begin in September. The camp is open to players ages 15-20.

Cost is $80. Players should have a parent or guardian complete a registration form, available at www.fortvancouvervipers.com.

In addition to being evaluated by Vipers coaches, University of Alaska-Anchorage goalie coach Scott Johnson and Turk Hartley, regional scout for the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League, are scheduled to participate.

Check in for this camp is at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with the first ice session at 7 p.m. On Monday, ice sessions are at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., with lunch provided during a team meeting in between.

Tuesday there is an ice session at 9 a.m. followed by exit interviews at 11 a.m.

Chuck Cheshire, the Vipers general manager and one of the four members of the team's revamped board of directors, emphasized that the camp is a chance for Clark County hockey players to be evaluated even if they are not interested in playing for the Vipers this season.

This summer's changes in the junior hockey operation included finalizing its status a non-profit organization. The non-profit will be managed by a four-person board of directors including Cheshire, Keith Bemis, Danny Steinmueller, and Janet Steinmueller.

The Vipers also hired a new coach and changed the team name from Vancouver to Fort Vancouver to avoid confusion with a British Columbia youth hockey program and a Clark County amateur football team.

The new coach is Mike Dickerman, a Portland-area native who played in national tournaments as a youth and also in the BCHL.

Cheshire has been involved with this club since it was located in Beaverton, Ore. He is serving as a general manager and scout. He said he would likely announce some player signings following this July tryout camp.

Keith Bemis remains with the Vipers as the player personnel director. Both Bemis and Cheshire will serve as assistant coaches.

A year ago, the Vipers participation in the NPHL wasn't finalized until Aug. 28. As a result, the Vipers never had a full roster. Unable to field a full 20-player roster for any game, the Vipers won only two of their 40 games.

"The fans were absolutely amazing," said Bemis, noting that the Vipers averaged more than 200 paying fans per home game last season despite the lack of wins.

Cheshire said he has received a positive response from several sponsors who have supported junior hockey in Clark County in past years.

Bemis said the players returning from that team will benefit from that character-building experience of playing often against older opponents.

To play for the Vipers costs $6,000 for the regular season, plus $300 a month for players who live with a host family. If the Vipers make the playoffs, each player must pay $250 for each playoff series. Being a pay-to-play league allows NPHL players to retain their amateur status and college eligibility.

The Vipers are seeking families to host players during the coming season. Many of the players on the team will come from out of state. They will attend school in Vancouver while playing for the Vipers. To learn about how to host a player, contact Kelly Chavez at 360-601-8345 or vipers.billet@aol.com.

The NPHL — no longer calling itself the NORPAC — will be a six-team league in 2013-14. Five clubs will be in Washington, plus the Eugene Generals. In a significant rule change for the league, teams will be limited to a maximum of four 20-year-olds. Cheshire said the league made that change to create more opportunities for younger players.

"Our main goal is to move players" to college or higher-level leagues, Cheshire said.