Avs patch up ailing blueline

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

DENVER -- Derek Peltier must have looked over at his defensive partner last night, taken in his surroundings and wondered if he was in the right place.

Perhaps it would have been easier to grasp for the Colorado Avalanche rookie if his defensive partner, Mike Vernace, wasn't looking back wondering the same thing.

With four regular Colorado D-men out of the lineup last night, both Vernace and Peltier suited up, having been called up earlier this week from the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters.

Both made their NHL debuts on Tuesday in Minnesota against the Wild.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet, but the first game was awesome," Vernace said. "Especially having Derek there. It was crazy that the two of us got called up at the same time and we ended up playing together for most of the night, which was really good: it made it a lot easier. We're both comfortable and very familiar with each other."

Vernace, 22, a Toronto native, was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry draft. He has three goals and 14 assists in 65 games with Lake Erie.

Peltier, 24, was selected by the Avs in the sixth round of the 2004 draft. The native of Plymouth, Minn., has two goals and 17 assists in 63 games with the Monsters.

"Mike actually got called up on Monday," Peltier said.

"Then I wasn't told I was coming up until Tuesday after practice and that the plane was leaving in an hour.

"He called me right away to ask me if I was on my way."

The rookies had to be inserted in the lineup due to the number of injuries the Avalanche have suffered on their blue-line. Adam Foote is out indefinitely with a head injury. Kyle Cumiskey (shoulder) is lost for the season.

Ruslan Salei took a puck in the foot and is listed as day-to-day, while Daniel Tjarnqvist was hit in the forehead and is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms.

"It's been tough considering who we have lost," said Avs D-man John-Michael Liles. "It's never easy, but it gives those young guys a chance to step in and play some games and play some minutes."

The pair didn't have to wait long to get into the game against Minnesota.

Liles and Scott Hannan started the contest, but when Minnesota's fourth line, featuring enforcer Derek Boogaard, jumped over the boards on the second shift, Vernace and Peltier were sent out.

"We actually played against him quite a bit," Peltier.

"He's a big guy and (Cal) Clutterbuck was out there too running around trying to hit guys, so we had to keep our heads up."

Head coach Tony Granato has protected the youngsters when it comes to matchups.

"The kids that we called up had very good start in Minnesota," said Granato. "They both moved the puck well, they were physical and they weren't standing around watching, they were involved in the play. They did a really nice job."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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