Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blazers' coaching staff looking for positives

Dave Hunchak, the Kamloops' Blazers associate coach, delivers
some instructions during practice on Thursday at Interior Savings Centre.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell/Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers open their six-game WHL exhibition schedule tonight.
And you can bet that as much as the team’s two primary coaches will be paying attention to the newcomers who are vying for roster spots, they also will be watching the veteran players.
Head coach Guy Charron has spoken since before camp started last week about the change in attitude he feels he has noticed among the veteran players.
The veteran players, all of whom were part of last season’s non-playoff finish, are going to have to lead the way if the team is going to lift itself out of that quagmire.
The Blazers’ roster sits at 29 right now, with 15 of those players having been part of last season’s squad.
Charron, however, said he has noticed a change and that it began with the physical testing.
“The guys who were the best in testing were veteran guys,” Charron said. “There’s an indication there that they’ve come maybe with the right attitude and with a purpose. These players are very well aware that (last season) wasn’t good.
“For those who potentially will be here as (19- and 20-year-olds) and have played in this league for some time, it’s good to know that they don’t like what has happened and that they want to do something about it.”
Of course, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
And proving time starts tonight.
While the Blazers don’t open the regular season until Sept. 24, it wouldn’t hurt them to start delivering the message — to themselves and to the other teams — that last season is history.
“Like anything else,” Charron said, “only time will tell. The attitude, I would say, is a positive one. Even now, you can sense that in the players.”
That first test comes tonight against the Victoria Royals, who used to be the Chilliwack Bruins. Game time at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre is 7 p.m.
The Blazers are carrying three goaltenders, 10 defencemen and 16 forwards.
As was expected before camp opened, goaltenders Cam Lanigan, 19, Cole Cheveldave, 18, and Taran Kozun, 17, will battle through the exhibition season for one of two roster spots. Charron has said he isn’t opposed to carrying three goaltenders in the regular-season’s early days, but you know he would much prefer to have two of the afore-mentioned play their way onto the roster.
On the back end, the Blazers have six veterans holding down spots, with three freshmen — Landon Cross and Tyler Bell, both 17, and Josh Connolly, 16 — fighting for ice time. Jordan Thomson, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 bantam draft, likely will play tonight, but is too young to play fulltime so will be sent home to Wawanesa, Man., on the weekend.
With defencemen Josh Caron (Minnesota Wild) and Austin Madaisky (Carolina Hurricanes) scheduled to play in the NHL rookie tournament in Traverse City, Mich., Sept. 10-14, there isn’t any hurry for the Blazers to make changes on the back end.
Kamloops will continue to be without forwards Matt Needham (elbow) and Jordan DePape (hip flexor).
After tonight, the Blazers will travel to Ladner on Saturday to play the Vancouver Giants. Kamloops next plays at home on Sept. 9 when the Kelowna Rockets visit Interior Savings Centre.
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