Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Kamloops Blazers have missed the emotion and
leadership that is supplied by captain Chase Schaber.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell/Kamloops Daily News)
By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
It was just the other day when Guy Charron, the head coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, was addressing his players.
At the time, the team was without injured forwards Dalibor Bortnak, Jordan DePape and Chase Schaber, and a couple of other wingers were on the limp.
“Guy was saying the defence had to be our best asset because we were all healthy,” defenceman Brandon Underwood recalled. “A week later it’s the complete opposite.”
It’s a week later and Bortnak and DePape are back to active duty. Schaber is day-to-day with a leg injury and there is a chance he might play tonight against the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds.
However, now Underwood (knee) and defence partner Austin Madaisky (neck) are gone, the former for at least four weeks and perhaps six, the latter until next season. Both were injured in a 2-1 victory over the visiting Chilliwack Bruins on Friday night.
“The hockey gods have definitely not been on our side as far as injuries go,” said Underwood, in something of an understatement.
Madaisky and Underwood had emerged as the Blazers’ shutdown defensive pairing, playing against the opposing team’s top players. For example, that would be Ryan Howse’s line in the case of the Bruins and Tyler Maxwell’s unit with the Everett Silvertips.
Now down to five defencemen, the Blazers will have to rethink their philosophy. You’ve heard of scoring by committee. How about defence by committee?
Of course, Kamloops will get quite a boost when Schaber, its top defensive forward, returns.
Schaber, the Blazers’ captain, is frustrated these days, and who can blame him?
He has 44 points in 39 games and is a team-high plus-7. But he hasn’t been healthy for over a month. The 19-year-old from Red Deer would like to return to the lineup tonight but, well, he’ll be there if he’s there.
“It’s been really hard watching because you always want to be out there on the ice with your teammates,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting healthy and playing again.
“Obviously I miss playing and I miss playing with my teammates. I miss playing with all those guys. I miss them, especially when they’re gone on the road and I’m at home. That’s a huge part that I miss and I can’t wait to get back in. But at the same time we’re going to be patient.”
Schaber suffered a leg injury in a 4-2 loss to the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors on Jan. 4. He sat out two games, started and finished a 4-1 loss to the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers on Jan. 12, and then left a 7-3 loss to the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash., two nights later with another leg problem.
“I was just skating and something went . . . something happened to it,” Schaber said of the original injury. And then, in his second game back, he hurt the same leg.
“I’ve had a couple of upper body injuries,” he said, “but they weren’t nearly as long as this. This is probably my worst one.”
Through it all, though, he has worked at staying positive. He also has worked at staying as fit as possible so that he can get back into the lineup.
And he returned to the ice last week, although, as he said, he has been skating “lightly . . . to get my stride back.”
Tonight’s assignment is another in a long string of important games for the Blazers (23-30-3). Despite winning just three of their last 14 games, they still hold down the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. But they are just one point ahead of the Bruins ( 22-26-4), who hold four games in hand, and two ahead of Seattle (19-26-9), which has two games in hand.
JUST NOTES: Schaber has been using some of his spare time to help coach the Northstars, one of the KMHA’s peewee recreation teams. . . . The Thunderbirds’ lineup includes Calvin Pickard, arguably the No. 1 goaltender in the CHL. . . . Game time is 7 p.m. . . . The Blazers leave Friday for Whitehorse where they will play the Vancouver Giants on Saturday. . . . Kamloops returns home to face the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday. . . . Blazers G Cam Lanigan, who missed three games last week with a concussion, is expected to back up Jeff Bosch tonight.

gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca     
gdrinnan.blogspot.com
     
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