Friday, July 29, 2011

Blazers deal Underwood to Pats

Daily News Sports Editor
Brandon Underwood knew from looking at the Kamloops Blazers’ depth chart that someone was going to go.
Little did he know that someone would be him.
The Blazers, with a glut of experienced defencemen, dealt Underwood, a 19-year-old from San Marcos, Calif., to the Regina Pats on Thursday, getting back a fourth-round selection in the 2012 WHL bantam draft.
When the Blazers acquired Marek Hrbas, 18, from the Edmonton Oil Kings in late June, it left Kamloops with seven experienced defencemen, six of whom played regularly on a team that went 29-37-6 last season and missed the playoffs.
“It’s a business and you know in the back of your head that you can get traded any time,” Underwood said. “When the Blazers acquired (Hrbas) I knew someone was on their way out. I felt like someone was going to go; I didn’t think it was going to be me but . . .”
Underwood admitted he was taken aback when first told of the trade. By late afternoon, however, excitement had taken over.
“I was in shock a bit earlier but the dust has settled,” he said. “I’m excited. It’s always good to be wanted. I’m not going to lie. I really like Kamloops and met so many great people there . . . I couldn’t have asked for a better three years. Kamloops is like a second home to me.
“But you have to take things in stride and look at the positives. (The Pats) are excited to have me and I’m excited for the fresh start.”
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Underwood had 10 assists and 97 penalty minutes in 58 games last season. He also was minus-2 — an improvement from minus-18 the previous season — on a team that struggled defensively. He missed the first two games of the season with a concussion, served two one-game WHL suspensions, and then lost 10 late-season games to a knee injury.
In his three seasons with the Blazers, Underwood totalled 17 points, including two goals, and 271 penalty minutes in 149 games.
“I do think the Blazers will have a good team this season,” Underwood said, “and I kind of wish I would have been able to win there because I feel as if the city deserves it and the team deserves it. But it just hasn’t worked out.”
With Underwood’s departure, the Blazers’ roster includes only four players who saw playing time in 2008-09, his first season here. Left-winger Brendan Ranford played 66 games that season, while defenceman Josh Caron played in 21 games, centre Colin Smith eight and winger Ryan Hanes five.
“I wish them the best,” Underwood said, before adding, with a chuckle, “except when they come to Regina.”
Yes, Underwood has been hearing about Regina and winter. In fact, he said, he already is “trying to mentally prepare.”
When the WHL schedule was released, Underwood, like all Western Conference players, checked to see when the Blazers would make their East Division swing.
“I looked at the schedule and I was thinking, ‘Oh, we have to go to Saskatchewan in December,’ ” he said. “Now I guess I’m going to be there the whole time.
“I know it’s not warm there but . . . there were a few times in Kamloops when my hair froze . . . that was pretty bad. But I’ve heard Saskatchewan is not too warm.”
With the Pats, who went 23-39-10 and also missed the playoffs, Underwood joins an organization that is flat-out rebuilding. Pat Conacher, formerly the Victoria Royals’ assistant GM/assistant coach, was hired as Regina’s head coach earlier this week. The depth chart shows Underwood as one of two 19-year-old defencemen, the other being Richard Blidstrand. The Pats also have two 20-year-old defencemen in veterans Art Bidlevskii and Brandon Davidson.
The Blazers are left with six veterans on the back end — Caron and Bronson Maschmeyer, both 20, Austin Madaisky, 19, Hrbas and Tyler Hansen, both 18, and sophomore Brady Gaudet, 17.
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