By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
A year ago, Brady Gaudet was just glad to be here.
Not this time around.
“No . . . no. I want to be here for the whole thing,” Gaudet said Wednesday as his Kamloops Blazers wrapped up their practice at Interior Savings Centre. “I don’t want to just be here for a few weeks and . . .”
Gaudet, a 16-year-old defenceman from Redvers, Sask., left the thought unfinished. He simply doesn’t want to go there, or anywhere else for that matter. He likes it here just fine, thank you.
“I came in with the mindset that I was going to make the team,” he said.
Over the summer, Gaudet decided that he wasn’t going to worry about “who’s here or what’s happening.” He was going to take things one day at a time and concern himself only with his game.
As he put it: “Not worry about what’s happening in the locker room with all the other guys or who’s going home. Just worry about myself and compete for that job.”
So far, then, things have gone pretty well.
The Blazers have trimmed two defencemen from their roster over the last few days and — lo and behold — Gaudet is one of the eight still here. He also is the only 16-year-old among the eight, which bodes well.
“I’m feeling a lot better than when camp started,” he said. “You’re always on pins and needles when you’re one of the guys on the way in.”
A year ago, Gaudet was a fresh face right out of the Saskatchewan bantam ranks. He had put up 36 points in 25 games with the bantam AAA Moose Mountain Wild, after which the Blazers selected him in the first round, 10th overall, of the WHL’s 2009 bantam draft.
He was a bundle of excitement at rookie camp a year ago, but that was before he suffered a knee injury. He tore an MCL (medial collateral ligament), an injury that cost him a month of the season and kept him from feeling right until Christmas.
“I was out for over a month,” said Gaudet, who was with the Tisdale Trojans of the highly rated Saskatchewan midget AAA league. “When I started into the regular season I wasn’t 100 per cent. From Christmas on, I felt 100 per cent.
“From Christmas on, I thought (my season) was really good. I was happy with my play from the Mac’s tournament to the end.”
In the end, he had 20 points and 83 penalty minutes in 41 games with the Trojans. That included five goals, three of which came on the power play.
Gaudet, a fluid skater who looks to have terrific instincts, gave local fans a taste of what he might bring to the power play on Friday night as the Blazers beat the visiting Kelowna Rockets, 3-2. Playing the middle point, he looked off a defender and threw a shot past goaltender Jordon Cooke to give Kamloops a 2-1 lead.
After the game, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron praised the move, saying it “was the kind of good decision that good players make.”
For his part, Gaudet thought he “had a strong game Friday.”
“Confidence,” he suggested, “is huge. You get that confidence up and it really helps.”
The Blazers went on to drop a 4-2 decision in Kelowna on Saturday, when Gaudet felt “the legs were heavy but I thought I played pretty well defensively.”
Of course, as a 16-year-old, Gaudet likely isn’t going to get a lot of power-play time. Last season, the Blazers kept Tyler Hansen, then 16, and he got into 48 games. Assuming Gaudet is here all season, that may be within his reach.
Like seemingly all hockey players these days, Gaudet spent his summer training . . . and training . . . and training. He did a lot of cardio work, he said, and worked on “trying to get the feet going and trying to get stronger.”
As he explained, “Coming into the WHL as a 16-year-old, you have to have a little more strength.”
When he was in the 2009 rookie camp, trainer Colin Robinson had Gaudet at 5-foot-11 and 163 pounds. This time around, Robinson is showing him at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds.
A smiling Gaudet suggests those figures may be out a tad.
“I figure I grew about an inch,” he said. “I’m maybe peeking a little over 5-11. And I put on a least 20 pounds. I feel good out there. That 20 pounds helps me.”
Now that he has moved on from rookie camp to main camp and into exhibition games, Gaudet said he also is getting a feel for things.
“The last week I’ve felt more in a bit of a comfort zone. And I’m getting into a routine . . . starting school is huge and then the routine of practising at the same time every day.”
“It’s a huge step,” he added. “It’s the little things. It’s the details that you have to know. It’s the little things that make it the big jump.”
And you know what they say about taking care of the little things . . .
JUST NOTES: F Jake Trask, who took a hard shoulder-to-chest hit from Kelowna F Codey (Judge) Ito on Saturday, was back on skates Tuesday and Wednesday. Trask got hit on the game’s first shift and was later taken by ambulance to hospital, where everything checked out OK. . . . The Blazers (2-2) wrap up their exhibition schedule this weekend. The Prince George Cougars are here Friday, 7 p.m., with the teams playing in Prince George on Saturday. . . . The Blazers and Cougars will open the regular season here on Sept. 24.
JT GOES WILD
There are five NHL teams taking part in a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
And forward JT Barnett of the Kamloops Blazers is the youngest player in the tournament.
But that hasn’t kept him from leaving a mark.
Barnett, on a free-agent tryout with Minnesota, broke a 1-1 tie with an unassisted goal at 15:29 of the second period as the Wild beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Wednesday.
Defenceman Josh Caron of the Blazers, who also is with the Wild, didn’t play yesterday.
On Tuesday, Barnett drew an assist on the tying goal as the Wild beat the New York Rangers, 5-4.
Blazers defenceman Austin Madaisky, who also is in Traverse City, was pointless as his Columbus Blue Jackets lost 4-2 to the St. Louis Blues yesterday.
Former Blazers captain Tyler Shattock, who was traded to the Calgary Hitmen last season, had an assist for the Blues.
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