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Vernon Vipers look to make history at RBC Cup in Victoria

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The Vernon Vipers are looking to make history at the RBC Cup.

The Vipers are attempting to give Vernon, B.C., a record fifth title at the Canadian tier II Junior A hockey championship, which opens Saturday in Victoria.

"It would be a tremendous honour for the city here," Vipers coach and general manager Mark Ferner said Friday. "Obviously, this is only my second year here in Vernon, but this owner (Duncan Wray) has owned the team for 17 years."

The defending champion Humboldt Broncos are trying to become the first repeat winners since Vernon, then known as the Lakers, won back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991.

The Summerside Western Capitals, Kingston Voyageurs and host Victoria Grizzlies round out the field. Some 143 teams began the season in various leagues across the country.

Ferner, a former pro who played 91 NHL games mostly with Anaheim, knows capturing a fifth crown won't be easy.

"We have a long road ahead of us no question about it," he said.

The B.C. Hockey League-champion Vipers are led by 18-year-old twins Connor and Kellen Jones. Vernon's version of the Sedin twins accounted for 112 regular-season points as Connor led the team with 60 and Kellan placed third with 52.

"They play a little bit differently, but they're pretty hard to tell apart," said Ferner. "If you look at them, you can't tell them apart. Connor plays a little more physical."

But most of the clubs know little about each other's characteristics. Ferner said the tournament format will pose more of a challenge because the teams won't be able to learn as much about each other as they could in a series.

"We know Victoria," said Ferner. "We've had people watch the other teams through schools and whatnot."

The Broncos, the three-time defending Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions, are the only returning club from last year. They are led by Brady Wacker, a finalist for Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year who was voted the top defenceman in last year's RBC Cup.

Wacker, a 20-year-old Jansen, Sask., native, is playing his final games with Humboldt before heading on a scholarship to Bemidji State in Minnesota next season.

Meanwhile, Summerside is seeking its second title after having to earn the right to qualify for the first time. The Capitals, who had five players among the Maritime Junior A Hockey League's top 10 scorers, gained their previous two entries automatically as the host club.

Kingston had the most arduous on-ice journey to the event. The Voyageurs ousted eight teams while trekking through the Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs and Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament, which determined the East region qualifier.

Victoria, coached by former NHL player Geoff Courtnall, had the easiest trip thanks to their automatic berth. Still, the hosts reached the BCHL semifinals and were able to rest while the other clubs had to win difficult league and regional qualifying playoffs.

But the Grizzlies, owned by Tampa Bay Lightning co-owner Len Barrie, could also be rusty. They have been out of action since their BCHL season ended March 31.

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