With a pair of veterans returning from injury and two more players making their debuts, the Vernon Vipers will feature a new-look lineup as they visit the Prince George Spruce Kings tonight at the Coliseum.
Defenceman Josh Bryan and forward Colton Sparrow, both 20, who have been out since the B.C. Hockey League’s opening weekend showcase tournament, will boost the veteran content of a Vipers’ squad that has struggled to a 3-3-1-2 record, good enough for a share of third in the Interior.
“It’s not where you want to be after nine games, but if you look at who we had out of the lineup, there’s some older guys that would have calmed the bench down,” said Vipers’ associate coach Kris Mallette.
Newcomers Jared Wilson, an offensive defenceman acquired Tuesday from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, and Josh Betinol, a forward picked up Thursday from Saskatchewans’ Battlefords North Stars, will also suit up for Vernon tonight.
The Sprucies top the Mainland at 5-3-0-1 and are on a three-game win streak. Vernon visits the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (4-4-0-1) Saturday at the Shaw Centre.
Betinol, an Okotoks, Alta. native, had 13-19-32 in 51 games with the Stars last season. To make room for him on his 22-man roster, Vernon head coach/GM Jason Williamson placed injured captain Ryan Renz on the 30-day IR.
Renz rolled his ankle in a Sept. 13 scrap in Salmon Arm, and Williamson noted the 30 days are retroactive to the date of the injury. He expects his captain will return sooner.
“We had to add a forward,” said Vernon head coach Jason Williamson, who sent winger Craig Martin and future considerations to Alberni Valley to obtain Wilson, a 19-year-old Calgary product.
“He’s (Betinol) a smaller guy (5-foot-8, 165 pounds), but competes hard and works hard around the net.”
Vernon’s blueline has felt the brunt of the injury bug. They finished Saturday’s game against the Surrey Eagles (a 7-4 loss) with just four d-men when Michael Statchuk left the game after blocking a hard shot.
“We’ve got some guys playing minutes that they’re not quite used to,” said Mallette. “I’d rather ease guys into the game, but we’ve kind of thrown them into the fire the last little while.
“I’m not saying they did a bad job, you just want that transition to be a little smoother.”
Wilson should help the Vipers’ back end until Renz is fit to return. His three goals, six assists and 26 penalty minutes in nine games were tops in Alberni, and he gives Vernon another option for a powerplay quarterback.
“It was good going to Alberni,” said the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Wilson. “I got lots of opportunity and I took the opportunity and ran with it.”
The Bulldogs lost their top three returning scorers (Evan Tironese, Ryan Lough and Bo Pellah) to the USHL, which reflects in their league-worst 1-7-1 record.
“It’s definitely a better group than the record looks out there; we lost a lot of tight games,” said Wilson.
Wilson has played with plenty of high-end talent in the past. He skated with the likes of Hunter Shinkaruk (Vancouver Canucks) and Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets), both first-round picks in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, back when he was with the Calgary Bantam AAA Royals.
“You knew they were going to be stars,” said Wilson. “They were just the top of the top – the way they think the game, the way they skate, their puck skills.”
Much has been made of Wilson’s offensive upside, but Mallette is confident Vernon’s latest addition is capable of playing a solid two-way game.
“A lot of people don’t see the fact that he does take pride in his own end as well. Just to be able to bolster what we’ve already got here is going to be huge for us down the stretch.”
Martin headed home to Trail Wednesday and joined the Bulldogs Thursday in Castlegar. Alberni takes on his hometown Smoke Eaters tonight at Cominco Arena.
With 3-4-7 in nine games, Martin becomes the Bulldogs’ second leading scorer behind Hunter Stewart (1-7-8).
“It’s definitely disappointing, especially with them hosting the RBC (Cup), but I see it as an opportunity to join a team where I could be more of a provider, get some more ice time and help turn the team around,” said Martin.
“I thought I was playing pretty well, but they really wanted this guy. It’s a business and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win.”