By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers will take another step tonight in what the WHL team’s braintrust hopes is the evolution of a non-playoff team into at least a quasi-contender as it holds its Blue-White intrasquad game at Interior Savings Centre.
The game, which is to begin at 7 p.m., will mark the end of training camp.
There were three scrimmages in main camp on Monday, after which nine more players were reassigned. That left the club with 46 players in camp — 26 forwards, 14 defencemen and six goaltenders.
There almost certainly will be more players reassigned following tonight’s game. The regular season is to open on Sept. 24, around which time the coaching staff hopes to be down to around 25 players.
Head coach Guy Charron said Monday that training camp, which opened Friday, has “been good.”
He especially has been excited with the addition of Dave Hunchak, a veteran of seven seasons in the WHL, as associate coach. This has meant an influx of new ideas.
“These are things we feel will help our team,” Charron said.
With that in mind, the coaching staff is spending a lot of time working with getting the puck out of its zone. The Blazers surrendered more goals than any of the other Western Conference teams. To have success, they know they have to show drastic improvement in that area, which is the main reason they acquired Czech defenceman Marek Hrbas, 18, from the Edmonton Oil Kings in June. Hrbas, who spent one season with the USHL’s Fargo Force and two with Edmonton, has the reputation as a puck-moving defenceman.
“We have a certain talent that we’d like to put to good use,” Charron said. “We feel confident in the back end that we can execute that kind of transiton to our game.”
Tonight, then, the coaching staff will be watching to see what kind of grasp the players have on the things to which they have been introduced.
“Any time you try something new it’s always exciting,” Charron stated. “Dave and I really talk a lot. We share everything. We exchange ideas and come up with what we feel is best for our team. I’m excited about it. Based on what we’ve done within the scrimmages . . . I’m all in favour of other ideas to help our transition (game) be better, for sure.”
Understand that it isn’t as though the 2010-11 Blazers didn’t work on getting out of their zone; it’s just that whatever they were doing didn’t work. This season, it will be a matter of attempting to get out of trouble as quickly as possible.
“If we can get a first pass or use our forwards in a more effective way, that’ll help our transition and we’ll spend less time in our zone,” Charron said.
The coaching staff also will use tonight’s game to evaluate the remaining prospects all of whom, Charron said, have earned the opportunity to play in the game.
“We will see how well the team responds to what we’re trying to do,” Charron said, “and evaluate some of the kids under a more competitive environment. We’ve had good scrimmages the last few days but they maybe don’t hold the same importance.”
The Blazers go into tonight’s game with six goaltenders on the roster, all of whom are eligible to play this season.
Cam Lanigan (19), Cole Cheveldave (18), Taran Kozun, who turned 17 yesterday, Troy Tremblay (17), Braden Krogfoss (16) and Scott Lapp (16) remain, although that number is expected to be trimmed late tonight.
“I’m not going to get overly excited (about goaltending) as I have in the past,” Charron said. “Last year, I didn’t get excited about our goaltending because through the scrimmages and our Blue-White game it was pretty obvious we had concerns.
“This year, I would say everyone in camp . . . has performed in a more than adequate way.”
At least two forwards with WHL experience won’t take part in tonight’s game.
Matt Needham, 16, is out with an elbow injury suffered while he was riding an all-terrain vehicle before camp.
While Needham’s father, Mike, who is the Blazers’ skills coach, reportedly wasn’t at all pleased, Charron chose to write it off as boys being boys.
“Let’s face it . . . they are kids,” he said. “These are the kinds of things you would like to avoid. Looking back, he shouldn’t have . . . but on the other hand it was a way for him with a friend to escape. Perhaps now he realizes how dangers these things can be at times if not done properly.”
Meanwhile, Jordan DePape, 19, is sidelined with a hip flexor.
“It’s the kind of thing unless you rest it properly and heal it properly there could be a reoccurrence,” Charron said. “We have enough bodies right now and this gives us a chance to evaluate a younger player in that spot.”
JUST NOTES: Tickets for tonight’s game are available, at $5 each, at the ISC box office. . . . The Blazers open their exhibition schedule on Friday against the Victoria Royals. Game time, at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, is 7 p.m. . . . The Blazers then will meet the Vancouver Giants in Ladner on Saturday. . . . Veteran forwards Chase Schaber and Chase Souto each had two goals and two assists in yesterday’s scrimmages.
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