The Kamloops Blazers are four games into the WHL’s exhibition season.
With two tests left, it sounds as though head coach Guy Charron has just about seen enough.
The Blazers won their first exhibition game, beating the visiting Victoria Royals, 4-2. But they now have lost three in a row and, with the Prince George Cougars coming to town on Wednesday night, Charron is sounding a bit disgruntled.
Oh, he isn’t reaching for the panic button, or anything like that. He even admits that, for the most part, he has liked the effort he has seen.
It’s just that he is wondering if the team’s veteran players — meaning anyone who has played even one WHL season — understands the urgency of the situation here.
Charron wants his veteran players to remember that they didn’t exactly set the world on fire last season.
He wants them to remember that they didn’t make the playoffs, that they lost eight straight games to end the season. He wants them to remember the pain of that ugly, ugly stretch drive. He wants them to remember that two more victories might have gotten them into the postseason dance.
Most important of all, though, he wants them to know that they shouldn’t get too comfortable. Yes, it sounds as though Charron and associate coach Dave Hunchak are about to shrink the comfort zone.
Charron knows that it’s the exhibition season.
But as he said Sunday in looking back at two weekend losses to the Kelowna Rockets, “I could name a few players . . . who played last season and aren’t pulling their weight.”
As he reviewed the two losses — 3-2 here on Friday and 5-4 in a shootout there on Saturday — Charron admitted to wondering what some players are thinking. He also hinted that he is about to find out.
“It’s an opportunity for me to meet with some of those players and kind of set the record straight, where they think they’re at and where they’re really at, and what their roles should be at this point,” he said.
And what will he tell those players?
“I don’t know what you guys are thinking, but if you’re thinking you’re assured of a spot on this team and playing the way you are, well, you’re wrong.”
Charron also realizes that he and Hunchak “have to be more demanding.”
“It’s not like we’re coming off an outstanding season and we know that all the leadership and everything is going to fall into place,” Charron explained. “These kids have to realize they have to earn their right to play for this team this season.”
Charron even went so far as to admit that it may take the departure of a veteran player or two to get this thing jump-started.
“You know what?” Charron stated. “Sometimes it takes a wakeup call and it takes that kind of decision . . .”
“You know,” Charron continued, “I’m not totally disappointed . . . to me, it’s more that some of the guys who have played one year . . . are they thinking that it’s an automatic for them?
“We need more from them, especially when the roster is as low as it is. And it’s a great opportunity for them because they are getting to play in a lot of situations that normally they wouldn’t play. They’re getting power plays and penalty killing and those things.
“I expect more from them.”
He especially would like to see his squad come out of the gate like gangbusters once in a while. He would like his guys to get a lead and set the tone, to have them act first and force the other guys to react, rather than the other way around.
In fact, if this group of Blazers is to find any semblance of success it first is going to have to find a way to inject some urgency into its game.
Yes, this is only the exhibition season, but far too many games over the last few seasons have resembled Friday’s loss.
In that one, the Blazers gave up one goal in each period and trailed 3-0 with time running out.
Then, the home boys scored once, which seemed to inject some desperation into their game.
Then, they scored again. Now they trailed by only one goal, and they appeared to have even more energy in their game.
But, as so often seems to happen to this team, time ran out. Once again, it all left people wondering: The urgency and desperation that were there in the last few minutes . . . where were they in the first period? In the second? Earlier in the third?
Of course, it’s not like this kind of thing is new to this franchise, and that is something of which Charron is well aware.
This season, though, he wants to nip it in the bud. And he wants that to happen right now.
Of course, Charron has added incentive, too.
The head coach is in the final year of his contract and there doesn’t appear to be an extension in sight. That means that Charron is coaching for his livelihood.
He needs more players to play as though their livelihoods are at stake here, too.
(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.)