Ryan Renz hasn’t exactly grown much since he joined the Vernon Vipers as a 17-year-old. He hasn’t really had to.
The Castlegar defenceman was already 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds when the Vipers plucked him from the Prince George Spruce Kings at the 2010-11 B.C. Hockey League trade deadline.
He has since added an inch and five pounds to his athletic frame, which he has used to punish opposing forwards over 173 regular-season BCHL games.
The Vernon captain will keep plying his physical style at the college level after committing this week to the NCAA Division 1 Lake Superior State University Lakers for next season.
“I just decided it was a good fit,” said Renz, who hopes to take advantage of some departures in the Laker defensive corps.
“They’re losing three dee for next season for sure so it’ll be a good spot to jump in and make an impact my freshman year.”
The Lakers are ranked 14th in the NCAA, and Renz likes the direction the program is headed under head coach Jim Roque.
“When I talked to the coach, I see him as a very good hockey mind. Since he’s been there he’s been putting together a team that can compete. I’ve put myself in a position to develop for a few more years, and hopefully have a good pro career after that.”
Located in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Lake Superior is Michigan’s smallest public university with an enrollment of about 3,000 students. The Lakers, who play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), won national titles in 1988, ‘92 and ‘94. Vernon’s Sandy Moger captained the team to the ‘92 championship.
Said Vernon head coach Jason Williamson: “They had some glory days there, and it’s a program where they’re turning it around. Opportunity and playing time will be there for Ryan if he does his part.”
After recording a career-high 26 points in 55 games last season, Renz has struggled with injuries this year. He has just one goal and three assists in 13 tilts.
Renz missed more than a month to an ankle injury in September, suffered during a scrap with Salmon Arm SilverBacks’ captain Blake Box. The 20-year-old is staying in Vernon this weekend to recover an upper-body injury as the Vipers head to the coast for a three-game swing.
The Snakes, second in the ultra-competitive Interior Division at 16-7-3-4, battle the Victoria Grizzlies (19-7-3-1) tonight at Bear Mountain Arena, followed by the Cowichan Valley Capitals (12-19-0-1) Saturday night and the Coquitlam Express (14-14-0-2) Sunday.
“I did some skating this week and the injury wasn’t where it needed to be to play three games in two-and-a-half days,” said Renz, who has been out since he crashed heavily into the end boards in a 2-2 draw against the West Kelowna Warriors on Nov. 23.
With other injuries mounting – forwards Mason Blacklock and Brendan Persley, and d-man Mark Hamilton are also sidelined – Williamson has moved Michael Statchuk back to defence. He has also called up forwards Blaine Caton (KIJHL North Okanagan Knights) and Lynden Hora (Major Midget Okanagan Rockets) for the road swing.
“It’s going to test us with a couple key dee and forwards out,” said Williamson. “But we haven’t really had a full lineup all season. For us to be playing the way we are, we aren’t too worried about it. It’s just ‘go and play.’
“Victoria’s a good hockey club, but they have a few injuries too.”
When healthy, Renz is a machine in the gym. Having gone on a marathon RBC Cup run with the Vipers in 2011, he understands the benefits of staying in shape.
“It’s something that’s underestimated by people as to how long the run to the RBC really is. Once it hits playoff time, it’s just hockey. There’s hardly any time for practice even.
“You get a lot of cardio from playing the game, so it’s more about keeping the legs strong in the gym so they don’t wear down in a long playoff series.
“It’s been tough with the injuries this year. I try to maintain as well as I can over the season.”
Meanwhile, the Penticton Vees leapfrogged the Vipers back into first place in the Interior with a 4-1 win over the Merritt Centennials Tuesday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Trailing by a goal after Jeff Wight scored for Merritt (16-12-2-1) in the first period, the Vees (18-7-1-3) rallied with second-period snipes from Paul Stoykewich, Jack Ramsey, Cody Depourcq and Brett Beauvais.
SNAKE BITES: Box also made an NCAA commitment this week, signing with the Army Black Knights. The 20-year-old Texan has 1+10 assists in 30 games…Former Viper d-man Cody Ikkala graduated from the Black Knights’ program last spring.