The Vernon Vipers will still be without their top-two defencemen when they host the Merritt Centennials in their lone B.C. Hockey League weekend tilt Saturday at Kal Tire Place.
Captain Ryan Renz, who rolled his ankle while scrapping Salmon Arm SilverBacks’ captain Blake Box last week, and Josh Bryan, who has been out since the opening weekend Showcase in Chilliwack, are at least another week away from returning to the lineup.
Their absence, along with that of another injured 20-year-old, forward Colton Sparrow, was felt as Vernon fell 5-3 to the West Kelowna Warriors Tuesday night at Royal LePage Place.
“We’re missing some pretty key bodies,” said Vernon head coach Jason Williamson. “Your two best dee doesn’t help at this time of year. If it happens later on, maybe it’s different because other guys are accustomed to playing in the league.
“We’re banged up, but we can empty the tank for one game. We’re looking for our guys to outwork Merritt. That’s all I’m asking for them to do.”
Seb Lloyd, Jordan Masters, Brett Mennear (shorthanded), Ambrose Firkus and Detroit Red Wings’ draft David Pope scored for Rylan Ferster’s Warriors.
Mason Blacklock pulled the hat trick for the 1-2-1-1 Vipers, who trailed 2-0 after the first period before levelling the score after 40 minutes.
“We kind of stood around in the first period, but came back in the second,” said Williamson.
“In the third, the game could have gone either way and you just have to take it and grab it. We just kind of let the other team dictate the outcome.”
Vernon rookie Dallas Calvin set up Blacklock for a one-timer on a 2-on-1 5:22 into the second frame.
Blacklock’s second and third goals came off tremendous solo efforts. Midway through the middle period, he crashed the West Kelowna zone on the forecheck and intercepted netminder Andy Desautels’ clearance attempt, leaving him with an empty net.
The White Rock product capped the hat trick 16 seconds after Mennear’s shorty early in the third period, going end-to-end off the ensuing faceoff.
“He just went to work,” said Williamson.
The Warriors (3-2) outshot Vernon 33-18 with Desautels earning the win. Danny Todoyschuk took the loss.
Vernon registered just two shots in the third period.
“We just weren’t desperate enough to get there,” said Williamson, who is calling for more accountability in the defensive zone.
“We just need to be smarter in certain areas and take care of the puck in certain areas. Some of our dee are having to play a lot, but our forwards need to make sure they’re doing the simple details.”
Williamson said rookie d-man Mark Hamilton has made the most of the void on the Viper blueline.
“He gets better each and every day and he’s playing close to 30 minutes a game right now.”
In other action Tuesday, veteran Scott Patterson scored three times and Michigan rookie Devin Kero stopped 28 shots as the Centennials ambushed the Trail Smoke Eaters 5-0. Patterson, who had 11 goals last year, has four in five games for the 2-3 Cents.
SNAKE BITES: Vernon’s Matt Halvorson, a 17-year-old d-man with the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights, made his Viper debut Tuesday night…The Centennials traded John Saunders to the AJHL Whitecourt Wolverines for future considerations last week. Saunders, a 19-year-old Calgary native, played with North Okanagan before joining the Cents. He played five games as a call-up with Vernon in 2011-12…Merritt head coach/GM Luke Pierce acquired former Nanaimo Clipper netminder Connor LaCouvee from the AJHL Grande Prairie Storm Tuesday for future considerations.