With as many as seven players out of the lineup at one time, the West Kelowna Warriors only vaguely resembled the club that won 35 games and tied for top spot in the BCHL’s Interior Division during the regular season.
The injury-riddled Warriors put up a fight in their first-round playoff series but, in the end, succumbed to the considerably healthier Vernon Vipers in six games.
The Vipers secured a spot in the Interior Division finale against Penticton with a 5-0 victory Tuesday night at Kal Tire Place.
For the Warriors, who closed the series without the services of their co-MVPs—Adam Plant and Andy Desautels—the absence of a handful of key players was simply too much to overcome.
“It makes it tough,” a dejected head coach, Rylan Ferster, said on Wednesday. “You expect to lose a few guys, but I’ve never seen anything like it. You never like to use injuries as an excuse, but they really hurt us. It would have been nice to have gone in healthy, but that wasn’t the case. A credit to Vernon, they’re a great team. When you don’t have all your guns firing, that’s disappointing.”
After falling behind three games to one, the Warriors displayed some resolve with a hard-fought 4-1 Monday at home in Game 5 to prolong the series.
But on Tuesday night, a series-long trend continued where the team scoring first went on to win the game.
“There wasn’t a lead change once in the series, so when Vernon scored first it was an uphill battle,” Ferster said. “We had some really good, Grade A chances early on but just couldn’t finish. It would have been nice to get one of those, but it just didn’t happen.”
While the loss is still raw, Ferster said the club can be proud of its regular season and the strides the organization made in 2013-14.
The Warriors will lose about 10 players, but expect to return a strong corps next season, including goaltender Andy Desautels and forwards Jason Cotton and Jordan Masters.
“We got some real key pieces coming back, so I think we have reason to be excited about next season,” Ferster said. “We live in an attractive place where players like to come, and we have great ownership here. It’s hard now, but we’re going right back to work to see what we can do better.”
The Warriors will host their spring camp April 18 to 20 at Royal LePage, with close to 160 players expected to attend.