(Steven Lane/The Columbian)Buy this photo
(Steven Lane/The Columbian)Buy this photo
Who: Players ages 16-20.
Schedule: 40 games, 20 home games at Mountain View Ice Arena.
Home opener: Tri-Cities at Vancouver, Oct. 5, 7:35 p.m.
Ticket prices: $5, $3 with high school and college student identification.
NPHL: Five teams for 2013-14 season. Other towns in league are Bellingham, Bremerton, Kennewick and Eugene. Champion will advance to the USA Hockey Tier III Junior Nationals.
Staying power has not been part of junior hockey's history at Vancouver's Mountain View Ice Arena.
A season ago, neither was winning.
As the Fort Vancouver Vipers begin the 2013-14 season in the Northern Pacific Hockey League, general manager Chuck Cheshire believes the club is in better shape. And he is certain the Vipers will win more than the two games they won last season.
At least they should have a fighting chance.
A year ago, the Vipers' membership in the league was finalized barely a month before the start of the season. With little time to recruit players, the Vipers played much of their 40-game season with only 15 or 16 players available. More than 30 players rotated through the club last season.
When they open the season with games on Friday and Saturday in Bremerton against the West Sound Warriors, the Vipers should have 17 players available. There are 20 on the roster, but defenseman Alex Rosen is expected to be out at least a month with a foot injury, two other players -- including defenseman Robin Haggstrom from Sweden --have not arrived.
Cheshire said the club expects to add several players soon, and to carry at least 23 players this season.
Turnover is constant in junior hockey, which is for players ages 16-20. That is the same age range as the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. But the similarity ends there. The NPHL is three rungs below the WHL in terms of skill level, and its players pay $6,000 for the season to play. Players from outside the area also pay $300 to host families.
First-year head coach Mike Dickerman is a Portland native who grew up playing competitive hockey in youth and high school programs in the 1970s and early 1980s.
He said a lot of time in preseason has been spent sharpening fundamentals.
"These guys are still developing skills, but they're coming along," Dickerman said.
Developing hockey skills and life skills should be the priority for the Vipers and the other four teams in the NPHL, according to Cheshire, who has been involved with NPHL teams in 12 of the league's first 13 seasons.
In recent seasons the league was called the NORPAC and has been a league of powerhouses and punching bags. One rule change this season aims to change that. Teams are limited to four 20-year-olds to prevent teams from winning just by recruiting older players.
One of the 20-year-olds on this Vipers team is Cody Dettman, a forward from Loveland, Colo., who led Vancouver with 16 goals and 21 assists this season.
"We're not really focusing on what happened last year. We're going to focus on this year," Dettman said.
Dettman did that by recruiting several friends from Colorado to join him in Vancouver this season.
The Vipers' roster includes local players Caleb Collins (Washougal), Logan Chavez (Brush Prairie), Peyton Frederickson and Shane Keenan (Vancouver)There are five returning players from last season: Dettman, Chavez, Rosen, Johnathon McCord and goalie Ronald Schwartz.
Chavez is a 19-year-old defenseman who said he learned a lot in his first season of junior hockey because he was called upon to play significant minutes.
Chavez and Dettman each said the vibe around the team is better at the start of this season than it was last season.
Cheshire, one of four volunteers on the club's board of directors, said the Vipers have completed the process of becoming a nonprofit organization. His goal is to build a club that provides consistent entertainment while giving area hockey players a place to develop.
Dettman and Chavez said they were encouraged last season when fans kept showing up for games despite the lack of wins.
"Hopefully we can get some returning fans," Chavez said. "They helped us a lot last year. They gave us hope."