Part 1 – A Former Adversary Joins the Vipers – written by Don Klepp
Jason McKee’s first memories of Vernon came in the 2010 and 2011 when the Spruce Grove Saints lost game 7 of the Doyle Cup to the Vipers in two straight years. He was a Saints assistant coach in 2010 and the head coach a year later.
He remembers that “in 2010 the Vipers started by winning two out of three in our building and then we came back to tie the series and force game seven in Vernon. Then in 2011 it was the exact opposite. It was great hockey for the fans. I remember that the atmosphere here during those two series was terrific – a great rink and passionate fans.”
“Both years, it seemed likely that whoever won the series would go on to win the RBC Cup. Those were two memorable seasons for both teams. Each year the Saints and Vipers were talented and deep at all positions. Both franchises have been blessed to have very good players come through their programs.”
“That’s what we plan to do here again in 2019-20. We want to create as much depth as we can at all positions. Good players make each other better, in practice and in games.”
Coach McKee’s career in hockey goes back to his home town of Irma, Alberta. As a 17-year-old, he played for the Lloydminster Blazers Junior A club (78 points in 59 games) before going to Michigan Tech for two years. Next, he spent his final year of junior eligibility in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds (62 points in 69 games.) His playing career continued the next year in the East Coast Hockey League but a serious injury sidelined him for 18 months. While recovering, he completed his degree at the University of Alberta and then took a teaching position at Edmonton’s Vimy Ridge Academy.
His attributes as a player seemed to have pointed him toward a coaching career. “I was a methodical player with good instincts for the game. Anticipation of the play was my strength; that’s how I contributed to the scoring. I was always a thinker of the game.”
Starting in 2006-07, he worked as a Spruce Grove assistant coach and he took over as head coach and GM for the 2010-11 season when Steve Hamilton left to join the Edmonton Oil Kings staff. Jason’s bench boss record in six years with Spruce Grove was 275 wins, 52 losses, and 33 overtime losses. His team went to the league final five times in those six years and won three AJHL championships.
Not surprisingly, the Vancouver Giants hired him as head coach for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. The team made significant improvement in the standings in his second year at the helm, but he was released even though, according to a Vancouver Province article, the Giants “played fast, fan friendly hockey this past season.”
Now in Vernon with his wife Carey-Ann (whom he met back home in Irma in his mid-20s) and daughters Brianna, 10, and Brynn, 9, he’s looking forward to living and working in Vernon. “As a family, we’ve spent time here in the summer; the area is so beautiful.” Perhaps more important for the coach and GM is that “there’s lots of support for the team; the fans, the sponsors, the volunteers, they’re all great. I’m looking forward to really diving into this coming season and providing competitive, entertaining hockey for all those people.”