The Vernon Vipers have been managing just fine with their current roster, and the talent pool is about to get deeper as they host the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight at Kal Tire Place.
The Snakes will happily welcome back forward Mason Blacklock, who has been out of B.C. Hockey League action since Oct. 20. Despite missing 16 games to injury, the White Rock product is still just two goals behind Mike McNicholas’ 17 for the team lead.
“That’s key,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “You get a guy like Mason back into your top six, it makes you a tougher team to play against. We’re getting a pretty special player back.”
Also returning from injury is power forward Brendan Persley, who missed the Vipers’ three-game coastal road swing last weekend, which ended with a 4-2 loss to the Coquitlam Express Sunday. Captain Ryan Renz is questionable for tonight, while fellow d-man Mark Hamilton remains out indefinitely.
Williamson travelled to Penticton Wednesday night to watch the host Vees brush back the Smokies 3-2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Fred Harbinson’s Vees (21-7-1-3) are three points ahead of Vernon (18-8-3-4) for first place in the Interior Division. The Smoke Eaters (7-24-2-1), losers of eight straight, share the BCHL cellar with the Chilliwack Chiefs.
“They played pretty hard,” said Williamson, of Trail. “They were up 2-1 going into the third and then Penticton put the pedal down.”
Vernon visits the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (17-11-1-4) Saturday at the Shaw Centre.
The Vipers’ 2-1 win over the ‘Backs on Nov. 1 marked the start of a strong run for Vernon. They have recorded points in all but two of their last 14 games (9-2-2-1).
“We’ve just found a way to be on the right side of those one-goal games,” said Williamson. “Our guys have been up to the challenge each and every game.”
The Vipers will host their annual Teddy Bear Toss at tonight’s game. Fans are encouraged to bring suitable stuffed toys to toss on the ice when the Vipers score their first goal. The toys will be donated to the KISS FM Santa’s Toy Fund.
SNAKE BITES: The Victoria Grizzlies’ new ownership group took just one day to shake things up, firing head coach Bill Bestwick Tuesday. Bestwick had piloted the 20-8-3-2 Grizz to third overall in the BCHL.