Wade Waddell calls it “a measuring stick” for the Kensington Vipers.
The veteran head coach will lead his young team into a home-and-home series this weekend with the Western Red Wings in the Island Junior Hockey League. The teams will meet at Credit Union Centre in Kensington on Friday at 7:45 p.m., before reconvening at the Evangeline Recreation Centre in Abram-Village on Sunday at 7 p.m.
“Western is a veteran-laden team this year, and they are probably earmarked as the team to beat,” said Waddell. “You always want to measure yourself up against the best, especially for some of these young players.
“I have always found this is when you start figuring out what the league is all about when you get into rivalry games, especially for us against Western. Over the last 10 to 15 years, I’d put it up against any rivalry in Atlantic Canada.”
The Vipers improved to 4-3-0 (won-lost-overtime losses) with a 6-3 win over the Eastern Maniacs (0-6-0) Montague on Tuesday night. The Red Wings are in second place at 5-2-0, one point behind the Sherwood-Parkdale Metros (5-2-1).
The Red Wings are looking forward to renewing acquaintances with their arch-rival.
“Any time Kensington is on the calendar, it’s special,” said Red Wings head coach Nathan DesRoches. “We certainly do not take anything for granted, and I have told the guys countless times in the dressing room that you are lucky and fortunate enough to play in a rivalry as big as this one.
“Both teams get up for the games. I find even the pace is a little quicker just because there is the pride factor on the line for both groups.”
The only previous meeting between the two teams ended in a 3-1 Western victory on Nov. 8 after three unanswered third-period goals.
Waddell described that game as a learning experience for his young team. He added this year’s edition of the Vipers features around 10 rookies.
“They are still finding their way, and we have been a little bit inconsistent to start the season,” said Waddell. “We have had some strong games, and then we have had other games where we haven’t brought what I thought we could.”
The Red Wings’ back end could have a very different look this weekend. Over-age defenceman Jack DesRoches made his season debut in Sunday’s 6-1 win over Eastern. Goaltender Stephan Giansante, who started the season with the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL), is expected to make his Red Wings’ debut, and hard-hitting sophomore defenceman Ethan Beaulieu is close to returning as well.
“Jack is a huge piece of the puzzle,” said DesRoches. “Last year, I thought we were a good team, and when we got Jack, we were a great team. You might not see him on the score sheet, but does he ever make a difference.
“I think Stephen in nets is going to make a big difference, and Ethan Beaulieu has been out all year, and, hopefully, he may be back this weekend. We have had a lot of core pieces out of our lineup this year. It’s been very frustrating.”
Jason Simmonds is the sports reporter for the Journal Pioneer.