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HOCKEY NOTEBOOK: A SURPRISE FINISH FOR VIPERS.

Byline: Gideon Rubin Staff Writer

VALENCIA - Surprises were the dominant theme of last weekend's California Amateur Hockey Association Tier 2 championship tournament at Ice Station Valencia.

That was good news for the fifth-seeded Valencia/Sylmar-based Bantam Vipers (13-and-14-year-olds), and bad news for the top-seeded Pee Wee Vipers (11-and-12-year-olds).

The Bantam Vipers went 4-1, finishing second in the tournament, which qualified them for the Pacific Coast District Championships in San Jose, which began Thursday.

The Pee Wee team, which was 15-1-1 in CAHA play going into the tournament, was 1-3.

The Bantam Vipers' success was especially surprising considering they'd lost five consecutive games just a month ago.

``I think a lot of people were surprised, even our group was a little surprised,'' Vipers coach Mike Walker said.

``We really didn't think we'd be in this place a month ago.''

The Vipers, who were projected to be among the CAHA's top teams in the beginning of the season, began to regroup from last month's slump at the recent Lakewood President's Day tournament, reaching the championship game before eventually losing to the Huntington Beach Sun Devils.

The Vipers are led by defenseman Darren Rowe, an outstanding stick handler who's among the team's most significant scoring threats.

The Vipers lost to the California Wave of Lakewood in the championship game, 5-0.

``I'm not only impressed, I'm really proud of the way all 17 (players) came together after some adversity and rallied together as a hockey team,'' Walker said.

--``Really good year'' Despite their struggles at the CAHA tournament, the Pee Wee Vipers were among the state's youth hockey community's biggest surprise stories.

In addition to winning several prestigious tournaments, the expansion Vipers had a 16-game unbeaten streak that was finally snapped Feb. 1 by the San Diego Gulls.

The Gulls were the eventual CAHA tournament champions.

And although tears streamed down the faces of several players at the conclusion of the tournament, coach Larry Bruyere said he was impressed with the way his players handled the disappointment, an emotion they hadn't experienced very much of this season.

``I was really pleased with their morale,'' Bruyere said. ``It was good all year and it was good this weekend.

``It's been a really good year.''

--In-house: Evaluations for the Ice Station's spring and summer in-house hockey programs for Mites through Midgets (ages six through 17) begin Sunday, and conclude March 13.

The Ice Station will field four teams on each level.

For more information, contact the Ice Station' hockey office at (661) 775-8686, ext. 204.

Gideon Rubin, (818) 713-3607

gideon.rubin(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 6, 2004
Words:428
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