Puck to drop at Breckenridge Vipers game for the 1st time in 18 months
After a more than yearlong hiatus from play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Breckenridge Vipers will return to Stephen C. West Arena on Friday, Nov. 19, for the 2021-22 hockey season.
The Breckenridge Vipers are Summit County’s semiprofessional hockey team, which used to be part of the Mountain West Hockey League prior to the pandemic.
JR Engelbert — who is the director of operations, goaltending coach and goaltender for the Vipers — said the Mountain West Hockey League is having trouble recovering after the postponed 2020 season, which saw no play for the majority of the 10-team league.
Due to this, Engelbert said the league is no longer functioning and the Vipers will instead play nearby teams, mostly in the West Region, or other teams that used to be part of the now-defunct league.
“This year, everyone is focused on getting back on the ice and playing hockey after the last 18 months,” Engelbert said. “I think the big focus for the teams that are left (from the league) is to regain momentum and get that community support again.”
Prior to March 2020, Engelbert said the Breckenridge Vipers were in the midst of one of their best seasons since the team’s inception in 2015.
“We were on track to have one of our best seasons ever in terms of fans, attendance, support and momentum,” Engelbert said. “It was a bummer to have that season get canceled out short and not play at all last year. We are trying to rebuild back to where we were in 2020.”
The Vipers are made up of players who have played junior, college and sometimes even pro hockey who are looking to continue to play the game at a competitive level in the local hockey community.
Although the Vipers are a Senior A Class team, Engelbert said the team’s average age is 26-27 years old. The team also comprises Summit County locals who will play key roles in spearheading the Vipers’ return to the ice.
Sean Costello grew up in Summit County, was a star on the Breckenridge Bolts and is a graduate of Summit High School. Costello starts his second season on the Vipers team after his debut season in 2019.
“He is young, he’s fast, he’s skilled, and he knows how to play hockey really well.” Engelbert said.
Josh Gionfriddo is another local who will play a big role for the Vipers as they take the ice again. Gionfriddo grew up in the Summit County area and has been part of the hockey community like his teammate Costello. The Vipers will look to Gionfriddo to serve as the team’s captain on and off the ice.
The Vipers will have their first faceoff in over a year and a half Friday as they take on the Reno Ice Raiders.
The Reno Ice Raiders, which were also in the Mountain West Hockey League, are notorious for being a skilled, physical team. The Ice Raiders will play the Vipers on Friday and Saturday nights at Stephen C. West Ice Arena with both puck drops set for 7:30 p.m.
The two games will provide the Vipers with their first test as they look to start where they left off in 2020.
“We have played (the Ice Raiders) in the past to some really close games,” Engelbert said. “It should be a good way to start the season off, playing a good, competitive hockey team and get those cobwebs from the last 18 months dusted off immediately.“
Tickets can be purchased at the arena and are $15 for adults, $10 for local adults and free for kids younger than 16.
• Friday, Nov. 19, vs. Reno Ice Raiders, 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Nov. 20, vs. Reno Ice Raiders, 7:30 p.m.
• Dec. 17 vs. Vail Yeti, 7:30 p.m.
• Jan. 9 vs. FDNY, 6:45 p.m.
• Jan. 29 vs. Vail Yeti, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 4 vs. Fort Worth Barracuda, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 5 vs. Fort Worth Barracuda, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 18 vs. Santa Rose Growlers, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 19 vs. Santa Rosa Growlers, 8 p.m.
• March 4 vs. Denver Leafs, 7:30 p.m.
• March 5 vs. Denver Leafs, 7:30 p.m.
All home games at Stephen C. West Ice Arena, 189 Boreas Pass Road, Breckenridge.
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