Vipers are part of new minor league

“Let’s-go-Vi-pers” rang through Poughkeepsie’s McCann Ice Arena on March 3 as the Hudson Valley Vipers finished a sweep of the Holyoke Papermen with a convincing 9-4 win. 

The Vipers and Papermen are part of the fledgling 12-team Union Hockey League. Its Eastern Division also includes the Boston Gold Kings, Norfolk Mallards and North Shore Nighthawks from Massachusetts and the Niagara Falls Buffalos.

The Pittsburgh River Monsters, Toledo Mobsters, Sun Prairie (Wisconsin) Killer Bees, Soo (Michigan) Nordiques, Flint Apollos and Western Michigan Sentinels make up the Western Division.

The Vipers line up before a recent game in Poughkeepsie.
The Vipers line up before a recent game in Poughkeepsie. (Photos by Jaylen Rizzo/HVV)

The minor league started small for 2023-24, with teams playing 20 games between January and mid-April, followed by playoffs and an All-Star game in Niagara Falls. The Vipers play twice at home this weekend (March 16 and 17) against Niagara Falls, and will host Toledo on March 30 and North Shore on April 20. 

The Vipers are owned by former Dutchess County and state legislator Pat Manning, who 30 years ago helped bring the Hudson Valley Renegades and minor league baseball to the area.

Manning said that, like the Renegades, the Vipers want to offer affordable, entertaining, family fun. All games are played on weekends; tickets start at $8. 

Fans seem to agree that the Vipers are entertaining. Nearly 600 came out for the first preseason game in December and the team now leads the league in attendance. 

“The players are highly skilled; it’s fast-moving and a bit rough-and-tumble,” Manning said, adding that after a hard hit, the gloves sometimes come off. “We don’t look to limit that; it’s been part of hockey history for well over a century. We’re not going to sugarcoat the game.”

The Vipers have four home games left on their schedule.
The Vipers have four home games left on their schedule.

Coach Joey Bonitatibus, 31, has coached hockey for six years, including as player-coach at Western Connecticut State University. He also skates for the Vipers occasionally if the lineup is thin on road trips. Most of the players have experience in the minor leagues, college or junior hockey level. 

“We’re willing to play the physical game and grind it out in the corners,” the coach said. “But we also have six or seven players with amazing stickhandling skills who can move the puck.” 

The team has won six of its 10 games and is in second place in the division, putting the Vipers in a strong position to make the playoffs. 

Vipers fans call themselves the Fang Gang.
Vipers fans call themselves the Fang Gang.

Bonitatibus said one of the challenges is the distance some players travel to games. While most live in the Hudson Valley, others come from Long Island, Staten Island and northern New Jersey. “But they make the trip; they’re dedicated,” he said. 

Players are not paid. On some league teams, players contribute a small fee. Vipers’ players receive stipends to cover costs on road trips. 

Bonitatibus said player morale is high because the team strives to build a positive atmosphere. “There’s a team outing after every game, win or lose,” he said, adding that weekday Zoom meetings to review game footage inevitably include “a few laughs.” He said a few players who made the lineup were released because they weren’t a positive influence on the team. 

Playing in front of highly supportive, vocal fans has also helped motivate the players. Bonitatibus said the sellout crowd of 1,000 at a Feb. 24 game was typical. “The Saturday night games get very rowdy!” he said with a laugh. “Fans come for the hockey, but they also like the physicality.” 

Max Henry, a forward and co-captain who grew up in Mahopac and played hockey at Marist College, said he tries “to keep the boys rolling on the ice and focused between periods.” When not in the rink he works as a business transformation analyst, helping older businesses adapt to the digital age. 

The other co-captain, defenseman Brett Beigert, 29, works for Metro-North. He won a state hockey championship with John Jay High School in East Fishkill but did not play again until joining the Vipers.

“I forgot how much I missed the game,” he said. “It’s certainly much faster than I remembered!”

The league has ambitious plans, including playing a 32-game schedule next season and expanding to 48 teams. “The idea is to have teams all across the country,” Manning said. “That’s never been done” with minor-league hockey. 

The Sin City Kings, a proposed expansion team, is lobbying to host this year’s Union League championship in Las Vegas. “That sends a message that we’re already successful,” Manning said. “This league is going to be around, and others are hungry to join it.”

The Hudson Valley Vipers play at McCann Ice Arena, 14 Civic Center Plaza, in Poughkeepsie. Tickets are $10 each, or $32 for four. Seats at the glass behind the goalie are $50 and at center alley behind the glass, $100. See and

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features

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