By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers are excited about this weekend’s visit to Whitehorse, Yukon, where they are to play a ‘home’ WHL game against the Vancouver Giants.
But, at the same time, they know they have to approach this as a business trip.
“It’s going to be a unique experience, going up to Whitehorse and playing,” said Chase Schaber, the Blazers’ captain. “But we’re not going to lose sight of the fact we need the two points up there.
“At the same time, we’re going to take the unique experience that has been placed in front of us and we’re just going to run with it.”
Unfortunately for Schaber, he will make the trip but won’t play. He has missed 14 of the team’s last 16 games with leg injuries. There had been some hope that he would have played in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds, but now there apparently are concerns about calcification and he is out indefinitely.
Both teams, along with WHL officials, are to fly to Whitehorse today where they will become part of a Hockey Day in Canada party that has been taking place all week.
There will be hockey clinics and school visits. Scott Morrison of Hockey Night in Canada is to emcee a banquet tonight that will be attended by team officials.
Whitehorse has been wrapped up in a week-long celebration that has included visits from former NHLers like Wendel Clark, Kelly Hrudey, Reggie Leach, Trevor Linden, Brad May, Pat Quinn, Tim Taylor and Kevin Weekes.
As well, the Stanley Cup and Memorial Cup are both in town.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” Kamloops left-winger Brendan Ranford said. “Not a lot of guys have played up there. You hardly ever go up there, obviously. It’s going to be my first time and it’s going to be a great experience.”
It is easy to forget that these players, for the most part, are teenagers who savour new places, new people and new experiences.
“I’m pretty excited for it,” said defenceman Brady Gaudet, 16, who is from Redvers, Sask. “It’s going to be a fun experience. Not everyone gets to do something like that. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be cool. It’ll be something different.”
Ranford is looking forward to being part of Hockey Day in Canada, but said he is going into the experience with his eyes open.
“These last (15) games, we have to play playoff kind of hockey,” Ranford offered. “It’s kind of like a mini-playoff for us. If we do make the playoffs, and hopefully we do, we should have that experience.”
Ranford’s point being that every game his club plays these days is just like a playoff game, simply because the Blazers have been involved for weeks in a five-team race for the Western Conference’s last three playoff spots.
The Blazers are 3-4-0 in the season series with the Giants, who lead the B.C. Division and haven’t played since ending a four-game Central Division swing with a 5-2 loss to the Kootenay Ice on Feb. 4.
Schaber, who has never been to Whitehorse, said that his teammates really haven’t been talking about the trip, simply because they’ve had other things on their minds.
“Actually, we’re focusing on taking things game by game,” he said. “We’re going to work towards a playoff spot and we’re going to get it. We’re just going to keep plucking away and we’re going to take it game by game.”
Following Wednesday’s victory, a smiling Willick admitted that he and his teammates finally would be able to talk about the Whitehorse trip now that Saturday’s game was next up on the schedule.
“I’m very excited,” Willick said. “Everyone is excited about it.”
And, as head coach Guy Charron pointed out, “This will be an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
JUST NOTES: Game time for the Giants and Blazers on Saturday is scheduled for 4 p.m. But the WHL, in an attempt to gain maximum TV exposure, has told HNIC that it is prepared to delay the opening faceoff for as long as 30 minutes. . . . The game will be available for viewing online at cbc.ca and whl.ca. . . . One member of the Blazers’ off-ice officials crew will be in Whitehorse. Dan Cournoyea will serve as the on-line scorekeeper. . . . The referees are scheduled to be Steve Papp and Trevor Hanson, while Chris Sweeting and Nathan Van Oosten are to work the lines. . . . Highlights of the Vancouver-Kamloops game will be shown on Hockey Night in Canada, which begins with Ottawa at Edmonton (11 a.m.), continues with Montreal at Toronto (4 p.m.), and concludes with Calgary at Vancouver (7 p.m.). . . . The Blazers return home Sunday morning and will face the visiting Tri-City Americans on Tuesday.