With just two out-of-division games in their last 13, there isn’t much room for error as the Vernon Vipers chase their first B.C. Hockey League playoff berth in three seasons.
The Snakes, who occupy third place in the Interior Division at 23-14-3-5, entertain the first-place Penticton Vees (27-11-2-4) tonight at Kal Tire Place. Jason Williamson’s crew then visits the fifth-seeded Merritt Centennials (22-17-3-1) Saturday at Nicola Valley Arena.
Just a dozen points separates first from fifth.
“Everybody’s either in or out right now,” said Williamson. “That’s why everybody’s got to be urgent and we’ve got to be taking care of ourselves and taking care of business.”
Vernon fell 2-1 to Penticton in a meeting earlier this month. The Vipers’ defence did a decent job of containing the Vees’ speedy, skilled forwards, and Williamson wants to see more of the same tonight.
“We’ve got to keep them to the outside, be physical when we can and make them come through us.
“We want to play right on that edge, but not across it. We want to be physical and aggressive.”
Fred Harbinson’s Vees enter tonight on a three-game skid. All were one-goal games, including a 3-2 overtime loss to Salmon Arm last Saturday.
Defensively, the Vees don’t have a lot to complain about, but to get the offence going again will take some line chemistry.
With the addition of WHL free agents Erik Benoit and Shane McColgan, Harbinson is trying to find combinations that work.
McColgan, a New York Rangers’ fifth round draft pick in 2011, is still trying to get his legs under him after missing 30 games to injury. The 21-year-old California native, rung up 83 goals and 268 points with five WHL teams.
“It’s (line combinations) still a work in progress,” said Harbinson, who also acquired power forward Nic Pierog from the Surrey Eagles earlier this month. “We need a good balance, we can’t rely on one line to solve all our problems.”
Vees’ forward Cam Amantea will miss tonight’s tilt serving the first of a three-game suspension incurred for a blow to the head he delivered in Saturday’s game against Salmon Arm.