By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers are to meet in a WHL exhibition game tonight at Interior Savings Centre.
If you’re a glass half-empty kind of person, the game is notable only because of the number of veteran players (14) who won’t be available.
If you’re one of those glass half-full people, well, you’re thinking this gives the younger players an opportunity to strut their stuff.
The Blazers, who are 1-1 in the exhibition season, have six players who have either left for NHL camps or are preparing to leave. That means local fans are going to have to wait to see defenceman Corey Fienhage, who left the U of North Dakota to join the Blazers but is headed to camp with the Buffalo Sabres. Also missing this weekend are defenceman Austin Madaisky (Columbus Blue Jackets), left-winger Brendan Ranford (Philadelphia Flyers), centre Chase Schaber (Edmonton Oilers), left-winger JT Barnett (Minnesota Wild) and defenceman Josh Caron (Minnesota).
Fienhage, Madaisky and Ranford are drafted players; the other three will be on free-agent tryout deals.
With three defencemen away, the Blazers will get a good look at freshmen Max Mowat, 17, and Landon Cross and Brady Gaudet, both 16.
Mowat, from Coldstream, was with the Blazers for a brief period last season, while Cross and Gaudet are 2009 bantam draft picks, both of whom have signed contracts. The Blazers will keep at least one of them, but not all three.
Kamloops fans should get their first look at German winger Bernhard Keil, who has three goals in the first two exhibition games, and feisty Chase Souto, the California kid whose game resembles that of former NHLer Pat Verbeek, whose nickname was ‘Little Ball of Hate.’
Centres Logan McVeigh, a second-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft, and Lyndon Martell, a 17-year-old from Prince George, also are very much in the hunt for roster spots.
The Rockets, meanwhile, are without forwards Evan Bloodoff (Phoenix Coyotes), Brett Bulmer (Minnesota), Mitchell Callahan (Detroit Red Wings) and Geordie Wudrick (Phoenix), and defencemen Antoine Corbin (Dallas Stars) and Colton Jobke (Minnesota).
As well, defenceman Tyson Barrie, who was to have gone to camp with the Colorado Avalanche, is out with a partially torn right hamstring, and centre Shane McColgan, who has returned home to Manhattan Beach, Calif., where he was to have seen a specialist on Thursday to see if something can be done about his tonsils.
“He’s sick,” Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ president and general manager, said Thursday. “It’s been going on . . . he had this problem last year. We’re waiting to hear. He looks like a chipmunk that swallowed a chipmunk, that’s how swollen his glands are.”
Barrie, who was named the WHL’s best defenceman last season, was the Rockets’ leading scorer last season, with 72 points. McColgan, as a 16-year-old freshman, was No. 2, with 69.
Barrie was injured in a scrimmage on Sept. 2.
“He’s made pretty good strides here already this week,” Hamilton said. “It didn’t bruise up. Usually when you have a tear you get a great big bruise from your (butt)
to the bottom of you knee. He had very little. We’re going to be very, very careful, but we have other guys who can play for now.”
That includes two veteran defencemen who came over in trades — Brendon Wall, 20, from the Prince Albert Raiders, and Kevin Smith, 18, from the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Rockets also will use Tyler Matheson, normally a left winger, on the back end this weekend.
Matheson is one of four 20-year-olds on the roster, the others being Bloodoff, Wall and Wudrick.
You want to pay special attention to forward Zach Franko, a 17-year-old from Winnipeg who was headed to Bemidji State before detouring to Kelowna.
“He’s very skilled, a great skater . . . a guy we coveted,” Hamilton said. “We picked him in the second round (in 2008). In hindsight, we probably should have kept him last year as a 16-year-old but it didn’t hurt him to go back and play. He had some real good success in the Manitoba junior league.”
Franko, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, had 54 points in 51 games with the MJHL’s Winnipeg South Blues last season.
“He went to a USHL camp because he wasn’t going to get into school for another year,” Hamilton said, “and he found out that the level of play wasn’t quite what he thought it would be. So he chose here.”
One player who can’t play for Kelowna is right-winger Kyle St. Denis, 20, whose last two seasons have been ruined by concussions. The Rockets have placed him on injured reserve and he is at home in Trail pondering his future.
“We’re going to meet again at Christmas just to see where he’s at,” Hamilton said. “I want this guy to get going with life here.”
Ryan Cuthbert, now an assistant coach with the Rockets, had his career ended by post-concussion syndrome and he has been helping St. Denis get through a tough period in his life.
“We watched what Cutter went through and this kid doesn’t need to go through that,” Hamilton said. “Cutter has been very involved with him all the way along. This guy has ended up pretty tight with Ryan.
“We had a great meeting on Tuesday and have a real good idea of what he wants to do so he might as well get started down the path.”
JUST NOTES: Game time is 7 p.m. . . . They’ll do it again Saturday, 7 p.m., in Kelowna. . . . While the Blazers are down to two goaltenders — Jon Groenheyde, 19, and Troy Trombley, 16 — the Rockets are carrying three. Adam Brown, who turns 19 on Oct. 12, is the starter. Chase Martin, 18, from Medicine Hat, and Jordan Cooke, 17, from North Vancouver, are fighting for the backup spot. . . . “Brown has been great,” said Hamilton. . . . While the Blazers split with the Chilliwack Bruins last weekend, winning 8-3 in Chase and losing 6-3 in Mission, the Rockets twice beat the Vancouver Giants — 4-2 in Ladner and 2-1 in Kelowna. . . . The Blazers will be on the ice at Interior Savings Centre for the first time today. They have been at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre since camp opened Aug. 27 because of Cirque de Soleil, which was in the building from Sept. 1-5.