Sept 18,2014(ISN) – (Last year’s stats in parenthesis)
Roster Breakdown: The Blazers roster currently sits at 27 players (3 goaltenders, 8 defensemen and 16 forwards). The roster includes 14 players selected in the WHL Bantam Draft, five players from the free agent list, six players via trade, and two players selected from the CHL Import Draft. The roster breakdown by region includes nine from B.C., eight players from Alberta, five from Saskatchewan, two from Manitoba, one from Slovakia, one from Switzerland, and one from the USA. There are 15 WHL veterans on the roster and 12 WHL rookies. Six of those rookies spent time with the Blazers throughout the regular season last year.
Key Returnees: F Cole Ully, F Matt Needham, F Matt Revel, F Collin Shirley, D Josh Connolly, D Ryan Rehill, G Bolton Pouliot
Key Losses: F Tyson Ness, F Matt Bellerive, F Joe Kornelsen, D Sam Grist, D Edson Harlacher
New Faces: Defenseman Brady Gaudet (5+26=31) was re-acquired in the off-season from the Red Deer Rebels to fill a 20-year-old void on defence. The fifth year player started his WHL career with the Blazers, and adds leadership, stability and some offense to the hockey club. Six rookie forwards will start with the Blazers full-time this season. Deven Sideroff (2+4=6), Spencer Bast (List Player) and Jesse Zaharichuk (List Player) are all 17-year-old forwards. Sideroff was impressive in recording six points in 12 games with the Blazers last season. Bast was 2nd in scoring in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League last year. Zaharichuk recorded 14 points in 48 games as a 16-year-old with the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2013-14. Jake Kryski (Trade via PA), Quinn Benjafield (1st round, 2013) and Jermaine Loewen (3rd round, 2013) are three 16-year-old forwards on the roster. Kryski is highly touted and gifted with speed and offensive instincts. Benjafield and Loewen are both big bodies that will have time to grow and develop. Four first-year defensemen are on the roster. Michael Fora and Patrik Maier were both selected in the 2014 CHL Import Draft. Both players are considered rookies, but at 19 and 18 years old, they will be expected to play in all situations. Cam Reagan and Travis Verveda are both 17-year-olds who will fight for ice time. In goal, two 17-year-old goaltenders have both shown the ability to play at the WHL level. Cole Kehler suited up for 11 games with the Blazers last year and is looking to establish himself full-time. Connor Ingram has shown the ability to win in Midget AAA as he backstopped the Prince Albert Mintos to the National Championship last season.
Who to Watch: Cole Ully (30+42=72) has established himself as an elite player in the WHL. At 19, he will be counted on to lead the Blazers offensively and to make players around him better. Matt Needham (12+23=35) is coming off an injury filled season in which he was named the team’s captain at only 18. With a year under his belt as the Blazers captain, he will be looking for a bounce back season. Matt Revel (15+30=45) and Collin Shirley (14+13=27) were both key trade acquisitions for the Blazers last season. At 18, they will have an increased role to produce and contribute at both ends of the ice. Luke Harrison has returned after an injury plagued season in 2013-14. Harrison has been a steady force on the ice and adds to the depth of the hockey club. Youngsters Jesse Zaharichuk, Jake Kryski and Deven Sideroff have all shown the talent and confidence to contribute offensively at this level. It will be fun to watch how these young players play with the opportunities they will get.
On defence, the two new import players will be players to watch. Michael Fora is big at 6’3″ and 205lbs with a strong work ethic. Patrik Maier is an 18-year-old defenseman from Slovakia with offensive upside. The trio of Ryan Rehill (4+16=20), Josh Connolly (11+34=45) and Brady Gaudet (6+25=31) gives the Blazers experience and added offense from the backend.
Behind the Bench: The Blazers go into the season with one of the most established and respected junior coaches of all-time. Don Hay has returned to his hometown to be the Head Coach of the Kamloops Blazers. Hay is a Blazers’ legend as his name hangs from the rafters at the Interior Savings Centre. He was part of the Blazers for 10 seasons between 1985 -1995, spending three seasons as the Head Coach. During his time with the franchise, he was part of five WHL championships and three Memorial Cups. Hay is the second all-time winningest coach in the WHL with 609 career wins with Kamloops, Tri-City and Vancouver. Mark Ferner returns for his second season as the Blazers Associate Coach. Ferner has a lot of experience spending time as a Head Coach in Kamloops and Everett. He also won two consecutive National Championships with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. Mike Needham returns as the part-time Skills Coach for a fourth season and Goaltender Coach Dan De Palma returns for a sixth season with the Blazers. The hockey club has added Peter Soberlak as Mental Performance Coach and Greg Kozoris as Strength & Conditioning Coach.
Forwards: The Kamloops Blazers offensive leaders are a year older as the hockey club has returned seven of their top nine scorers from last season. Cole Ully (30+42=72) and Matt Needham (12+23=35) are the longest tenured Blazers up front. They should build on their offensive numbers this season. If Chase Souto (20+11=31) returns from injury, he will need to be counted on to score goals. The trade acquisitions of Collin Shirley (14+13=27) and Matt Revel (15+30=45) have added some secondary scoring to rely on for the Blazers. It will be important for a few 18-year-old players to step up this season. Jesse Shynkaruk (4+3=7), Eric Krienke (3+4=7), and Mitch Friesen (1+2=3) are all veteran players that need to establish themselves this season. If 19-year-old forward Luke Harrison (4+0=4) can stay healthy this season, he should provide leadership and added depth up front. Sophomore forward Nick Chyzowski (3+8=11) will still have time to fine tune his game and be counted on as a two-way player. Jake Kryski and Deven Sideroff have already shown the ability to contribute at this level in short stints last season. They will have plenty of opportunity to play with good players. Jesse Zaharichuk had a strong preseason with five points in five games. Jermaine Loewen, Spencer Bast, and Quinn Benjafield are the other forwards on the roster.
Overall, the Blazers return virtually all of their forwards from last season. The hockey club will need to score more this season if they want to make the playoffs. With the forward group one year older, and a mix of some good young players, the Blazers should get more production out of their forwards this season.
Defensemen: On defence, the Blazers have made changes on the back end heading into this season. The additions of 20-year-old Brady Gaudet (6+25=31), 19-year-old import Michael Fora and 18-year-old import Patrik Maier has added size and offense to the defense. Gaudet is a fifth year player who started his WHL career in Kamloops. He will be counted on to add leadership in the dressing room and to play in all situations. Fora and Maier are two additions that are expected to make the transition to the WHL quicker than most import players due to their physical stature and age. The return of 19-year-olds Ryan Rehill (4+16=20) and Josh Connolly (11+34=45) solidifies the backend. Both Rehill and Connolly were forced into big roles last season and excelled. Rehill and Connolly will have added support around them this season. Connor Clouston (0+2=2) will have his opportunity to fit into the top-6 and play a regular shift this season. Cam Reagan (0+1=1) and Travis Verveda are both capable 17-year-old players that will need to establish themselves to earn ice time.
Overall, the hockey club has had a needed makeover on the back end this summer. Bringing back fifth year defenseman Brady Gaudet and adding two older imports in 19-year-old Michael Fora and 18-year-old Patrik Maier will improve the defense. The return of Josh Connolly and Ryan Rehill, with some added support, should cut the team’s goals against down this season.
Goaltenders: Three goaltenders have shown they are all capable of playing and starting for the hockey club. Bolton Pouliot (8-30-0-2, 3.94, .890) is the number one goaltender and has backed it up with a solid training camp and WHL preseason. He had a tremendous start last year, taking the job from Taran Kozun before Kozun was traded to Seattle. After an injury derailed Pouliot midway through last season, the 20-year-old finished strong. With 85 career games under his belt, it’s his job to lose. Cole Kehler returns after spending part of last season with the Blazers as a 16-year-old. Kehler (1-4-0-0, 5.16, .857) has had two very good seasons with the Okanagan Hockey Academy Midget Prep team. The 6’3″ and 201lb goaltender is big, poised, and ready to take on a full-time role with the hockey club. Connor Ingram is the third goaltender on the Blazers roster and has impressed. He had a terrific run last year as he backstopped the Prince Albert Mintos to the Midget AAA National Championship. In the championship game, he made 60 saves to win the game.
The Blazers are not on any timeline to make a decision to get down to two goaltenders. Each goaltender has shown that they are capable during training camp and the WHL preseason. It will be fun to watch the three goaltenders battle for playing time.
Prognosis: The Blazers had a season to forget last year. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong, and the hockey club finished with a dismal 14-53-2-3 record and in 10th place in the Western Conference. With a new and established Head Coach in Don Hay, the return of several veteran players, and some good young talent, the hockey club is expected to make a significant improvement this season. Under the guidance of Hay, expect this team to re-establish their identity as a team that will not be outworked.