By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
No one in all of Kamloops is wearing a bigger smile these days than Diego Cuglietta.
That’s because the Kamloops Blazers’ training camp is into its fifth day and Cuglietta, a Kamloops native, is still around.
In fact, he will suit up for Team Blue tonight in the Blazers’ annual Blue-White intrasquad game at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. He will be one of seven 15-year-olds in the game, but the only one who is a WHL free agent.
“He came in here and never took a shift off,” Matt Recchi, the Blazers’ director of player personnel, said Monday night as he watched Team Blue drop Cuglietta’s Team Orange, 11-4, in a scrimmage. “He’s got a good skill set and work ethic. He’s strong on the puck below the goal line and relentless on the forecheck.”
That kind of performance was enough to force the Blazers to keep Cuglietta around.
“I try to play every shift like it’s my last,” the 5-foot-9, 156-pound Cuglietta said. “I want to work hard out there all the time.”
When Cuglietta took to the ice Friday with all the other rookies, he had no idea that he would still be around come Tuesday night. But that’s how it has worked out.
“My goal was just to make main camp,” he said with a grin. “I have exceeded that goal and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Not that it has been easy. With 90 points in 46 games, he was the leading scorer with the bantam AAA Jardine’s Blazers last season. He admitted that these last few days have been “challenging.”
“It’s beey very good . . . a very good camp,” said Cuglietta, who will play this season for the Chase-based major midget Thompson Valley Blazers. “We’re playing hard out there. But it’s a very high tempo. It’s challenging, but once you get used to it, it’s OK.”
Asked about the difference between rookie and main camps, he replied: “I have to say the speed is a lot higher . . . passes are much crisper. It’s high-tempo hockey when you’re playing with the Blazers.”
The look on his face and the glint in his eyes told you how much playing for his hometown team, even if it’s still training camp, means to this kid.
“It’s exciting just to be here,” he said. “Making main camp and then being on the Blue team . . . I can’t ask for anything better.”
His game plan for tonight, he said, is to “just work hard every second of every shift . . . play my hardest out there and see what happens.”
The other 1995-born players who will be in action tonight are five 2010 bantam draft picks — forwards Matt Needham of Penticton and Cole Ully of Calgary, defencemen Tyson Harvey of Nanaimo and Josh Connolly of Prince George, and goaltender Braden Krogfoss of Cloverdale.
Devin Oakes of Prince Rupert, a 15-year-old forward who goes 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds and is on the Blazers’ list, also will play.
From a blended family, Cuglietta will have some supporters in the crowd tonight.
“It’s great!” he said of playing before family. “When they’re watching you play, you try to play even better.”
If you’re at the game tonight, watch for No. 11 on Team Blue. He’ll be easy to spot. He’ll be the guy who plays each shift as though it’s his last one.
His name is Cuglietta and he’s a local boy.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers reassigned 17 players after last night’s scrimmage and now are down to 41 players. . . . Former Blazers captain Ajay Baines will join assistant coach Scott Ferguson on the bench with Team White for tonight's Blue and White game. Assistant coach Geoff Smith and goaltending coach Dan De Palma will run Team Blue's bench. Tickets are $5. Game time, at McArthur Island, is 7 p.m. . . . Tyler Forsythe, the head coach of the major midget Blazers, has been helping head coach Guy Charron and his staff during camp. . . . In yesterday’s scrimmages, F Brendan Ranford had two goals and two assists to lead Team Orange to a 5-4 victory over Team White in the morning. In the evening game, F Chase Souto enjoyed his second three-goal game in two nights to help Team Blue beat Team Orange, 11-4. . . . Scores, scorers and goaltenders from yesterday’s two scrimmages are in Scoreboard. . . . Kamloops plays its first preseason game Friday, 7 p.m., in Chase. The Chilliwack Bruins will provide the opposition. . . . F Shane Danyluk of Kamloops, a 16-year-old in camp with the Prince Albert Raiders, is out indefinitely after spraining his left ankle in a Saturday scrimmage. It is a high-ankle sprain and GM/head coach Bruno Campese told John MacNeil of the Prince Albert Herald that “it could take a while.” . . . Campese said he doesn’t expect Danyluk, who is on crutches, to play in any exhibition games. He was a second-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft.
TRAINING CAMP ROSTER
(Year of birth in parentheses)
(x — denotes veteran)
x-Jon Groenheyde (91), South Surrey; Taran Kozun (94), Nipawin, Sask.; Braden Krogfuss (95), Cloverdale; Troy Trombley (94), Sherwood Park, Alta.
Tyler Bell (94), Regina; x-Josh Caron (91), Campbell River; Josh Connolly (95), Prince George; Landon Cross (94), Brandon; Corey Fienhage (90), Apple Valley, Minn.; Brady Gaudet (94), Redvers, Sask.; x-Tyler Hansen (93), Magrath, Alta.; Tyson Harvey (95), Nanaimo; x-Austin Madaisky (92), Surrey; x-Bronson Maschmeyer (91), Bruderheim, Alta.; Max Mowat (93), Coldstream; x-Linden Saip (91), Delta; x-Brandon Underwood (92), Carlsbad, Calif.
x-JT Barnett (92), Scottsdale, Ariz.; x-Dalibor Bortnak (91), Presov, Slovakia; Diego Cuglietta (95), Kamloops; x-Jordan DePape (92), Winnipeg; x-Rhyse Dieno (93), Saskatoon; x-Ryan Hanes (92), Kamloops; Bernhard Keil (92), Amberg, Germany; x-JC Lipon (93), Regina; Lyndon Martell (93), Prince George; Logan McVeigh (94), Kenaston, Sask.; Matt Needham (95), Penticton; Devin Oakes (95), Prince Rupert; Andre Parker (93), Melville, Sask.; Brad Parker (93), Chilliwack; x-Brendan Ranford (92), Edmonton; x-Chase Schaber (91), Red Deer; Mitchell Schwark (94), Saskatoon; x-Colin Smith (93), Edmonton; Chase Souto (94), Yorba Linda, Calif.; Aspen Sterzer (94), Canal Flats; x-Jake Trask (91), Saskatoon; Cole Ully (95), Calgary; Curtis Veitch (92), Yorkton, Sask.; x-Dylan Willick, (92), Prince George.
Team Orange 6, Team White 4 — Orange: Brendan Ranford 2, Andre Parker, Colin Smith, Dylan Willick, Dylan Frey; White: Linden Saip, Maclean Hewitt, JC Lipon, Shawn Mueller. Goal (shots-saves) — Orange: Jon Groenheyde, 13-13; Braden Krogfoss, 20-16; White: Scott Lapp, 17-14; Blake Alexander, 18-15.
Team Blue 11, Team Orange 4 — Chase Souto 3, Brad Parker 2, Corey Fienhage, Shawn McBride, Dalibor Bortnak, Travis McEvoy, Logan McVeigh, Jake Trask. Goal — Blue: Taran Kozun, 17-14; Troy Trombley, 13-12; Orange: Braden Krogfoss, 21-14; Jon Groenheyde, 19-15.
8:45-10 a.m. — Team White practice.
10:15-11:30 a.m. — Team Blue practice.
7-9 p.m. — Blue-White intrasquad game.