It will be a battle of slightly watered-down lineups as the Vernon Vipers and Penticton Vees clash in B.C. Hockey League action tonight at South Okanagan Events Centre.
Each team will be missing a trio of stars who were named for the Team Canada West selection camp for the upcoming World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S.
Vernon, tied for second in the Interior Division at 9-5-1-2, will be without forwards Demico Hannoun and Dexter Dancs, as well as defenceman Jared Wilson, while the first-place Vees (10-3-1-1) are sending blueliners Brett Beauvais, Alexandre Coulombe and Paul Stoykewych to the five-day camp, which begins Saturday in Calgary.
“It could be a first-place showdown, depending on what happens in other games,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “It’s a big weekend for us.”
Mason Blacklock, the Vipers’ leading scorer (his 15 goals account for one quarter of Vernon’s offence), was also selected for the camp, but suffered a lower-body injury in Vernon’s 7-4 win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Sunday. Dancs was chosen as his replacement.
Blacklock, a White Rock product, is expected to be placed on the 30-day injured reserve. Williamson is challenging his remaining forwards to dial their play up a notch.
“Guys like Spares (Colton Sparrow) and (Matty) Saharchuk will have to step up and be our go-to guys,” he said.
With four key players out of the lineup, Williamson received a bit of good news as captain Ryan Renz is probable for weekend action. The rugged d-man from Castlegar missed the last 14 games with an ankle injury.
Williamson plans to dress seven d-men this weekend to ease Renz, 20, back into the lineup. He is calling up 16-year-old Blaine Caton from the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights to boost the forward corps.
Caton, a Vernon product, has a goal and five assists with the Knights this season.
“He’s a good, young player, someone we want to have as part of our team next season, so he’s going to play,” said Williamson.
Meanwhile, the Vipers will be sporting splashes of pink as they entertain the Merritt Centennials for Pink the Rink Night Saturday (7 p.m.) at Kal Tire Place. Fans are also encouraged to wear pink.
Luke Pierce’s Cents (9-7-1) earned three of four points last weekend at Nicola Valley Arena, tying the Salmon Arm SilverBacks 5-5 before shading the Trail Smoke Eaters 5-4 Sunday.
Merritt also has three players headed to the Canada West camp – d-man Dane Birks and forwards Diego Cuglietta and Jeff Wight.
SNAKE BITES: The Vees’ netminding tandem of Olivier Mantha (1.72) and Hunter Miska (1.78) is one-two in goals-against average. They are also second and third in save percentage, with the 20-year-old Mantha at .933, and Miska, 18, at .932…Former Viper Craig Martin, now with Alberni Valley, earned an eight-game suspension for checking Vernon’s Colton Dahlen of the Nanaimo Clippers from behind into the end boards as they raced for a puck in the third period of their game last Friday.