By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Things are different with these Kamloops Blazers.
That was never more evident than Friday night when head coach Guy Charron delivered one message before what was a 7-3 WHL exhibition victory over the visiting Prince George Cougars and another in the second intermission.
As time goes on it will be first message that should have the most impact.
The Blazers added centre Matt Needham, their first pick in the 2010 bantam draft, to their lineup for this game, meaning one forward was going to have to sit out. That forward turned out to be Rhyse Dieno, a 17-year-old who played 16 games here last season.
“Rhyse didn’t play because I wasn’t happy with his week of practice,” Charron explained. “We knew that Needham was going to play so one guy had to sit out. If it’s a choice between (Dieno) and (Chase) Souto . . . Souto was showing me more.”
Since taking over as head coach in November, Charron has never hidden the fact that practices are everything to him. He repeatedly has said players who don’t practise hard won’t play.
“I’ve never hidden the fact that your effort . . . get my attention in practice,” Charron said. “If you don’t, I won’t use you.”
Souto, a 16-year-old Energizer Bunny from Yorba Linda, Calif., got everyone’s attention by getting into a third-period scrap with Prince George winger Wilson Dumais, who is 17.
That bout may have provided a spark that helped the Blazers dominate a third period in which they outshot the visitors 14-4 (the final shots were 43-22) and outscored them 3-0.
That followed a first period in which the Blazers got progressively better and a second period in which they, well, here’s the head coach . . .
“I wasn’t happy with the second period and I told them that it wasn’t good enough,” Charron said. “It was more too-loose hockey and not enough defensive awareness or tenacity.”
Goals by forwards JC Lipon and Jake Trask gave the Blazers a 2-0 first-period lead, but they gave those back early in the second when Dumais, thanks to a defensive lapse deep in the Kamloops zone, and James Dobrowolski, on a power play, beat goaltender Jon Groenheyde six minutes apart.
Kamloops bettered that, however, by scoring goals six seconds apart. First, Trask was the beneficiary of a fine play by Colin Smith behind the Cougars’ net. Then, off the ensuing faceoff, JT Barnett, just back from the camp of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, fired a long shot at goaltender Morgan Clark. He lost the puck in front, only to have Barnett get to his own rebound and score.
Prince George winger Spencer Asuchak, who is from Kamloops, cut the Blazers’ lead to 4-3 at 13:24 with a wrist shot that may have changed direction on Groenheyde.
The third period, however, was no contest as the Blazers got goals from Bernhard Keil, with a big-time shot, Lyndon Martell, who got his own rebound after a great rush by defenceman Brady Gaudet, and Ryan Hanes, from a scramble on a late power play.
The most-dominant player in that period was Kamloops centre Dalibor Bortnak, the 6-foot-4 Slovakian who is slowly coming into his own. He finished with three assists, two of them in the last 20 minutes.
“He’s a good player,” Charron said. “I’m sure he was disappointed he didn’t have an opportunity at pro camp, so this is a big season for him.
“With his size and his ability to play, I’d say he’s going to get a chance down the road.”
This also was another good test for Groenheyde and, again, he was solid. He only faced 22 shots but his focus never appeared to waver.
Groenheyde, 19, learned earlier in the day that the Blazers had acquired goaltender Jeff Bosch, 20, in a trade with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“I wasn’t surprised that we were going to bring another guy in,” Groenheyde said, noting that his backup has been Troy Trombley, 16. “It’s really tough making it as a 16-year-old.”
Asked if he is ready to face a challenge from Bosch, Groenheyde replied: “Yes . . . always.
“I feel good,” he added. “(I have) lots of confidence . . . confidence in myself, also confidence in the guys.”
Groenheyde has been good this month. He has played all but about 30 minutes of five exhibition games. And he’s likely to go the distance again tonight as the Blazers (3-2) and Cougars (1-3-0-1) conclude the preseason in Prince George.
The same teams will open the regular season here Friday.
JUST NOTES: Attendance at Interior Savings Centre was 1,172. . . . F Charles Inglis rejoined the Cougars on Friday, although he didn’t play. Acquired earlier from the Saskatoon Blades, he had been in camp with the Phoenix Coyotes. . . . Needham, from Penticton, took a regular shift as he became the first second-generation member of the Blazers family. His father, Mike, played for the Blazers (1986-90).
Taking Note on Twitter