By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers will put their seven-game winning streak on the line tonight as they open an East Division swing against the Swift Current Broncos.
The Blazers (21-7-1) haven’t been on such a streak since 2006-07 (Dec. 28 through Jan. 13) when they ran off eight in a row.
This will be Teddy Bear Night for the Broncos (15-13-3), who have won three in a row, including a 4-3 shootout victory over the visiting Kelowna Rockets on Friday night.
The Blazers also go in with all hands on deck and ready to go, according to head coach Guy Charron.
He said Friday that forwards Matt Needham and Chase Souto, both of whom left Wednesday’s 6-1victory over the visiting Everett Silvertips after taking checks to the head, “should both play.”
Needham was injured at 2:30 of the first period; forward Josh Birkholz was given a major and game misconduct for checking to the head. However, Birkholz wasn’t suspended and was in Everett’s lineup last night against the visiting Spokane Chiefs.
Needham missed the remainder of the first period, returned at 6:30 of the second period, saw limited playing time and wasn’t on the bench at game’s end.
The 16-year-old freshman from Penticton has been rounding into form after a shaky start. He went into Wednesday with five points over his previous two games and 11 in his last eight outings. On the season, he has 18 points, seven of them goals, in 27 games.
Souto left Wednesday’s game at 17:33 of the third period following a play on which Everett defenceman Lucas Grayson was given a minor penalty for checking to the head. Like Needham, Souto, who has had at least three concussions over the last 16 months, was in the dressing room when the game ended.
The Blazers will continue their trek on Sunday when they meet the Pats in Regina. The Pats will be without former Kamloops defenceman Brandon Underwood, who suffered a cracked bone in an ankle when he blocked a shot during a 2-0 victory over the Wheat Kings in Brandon on Sunday. Underwood, who played three seasons in Kamloops before being sent to Regina over the summer, won’t play again until after Christmas.
And when the Blazers play in Saskatoon on Wednesday, the Blades will be without forward Jake Trask, who was acquired from Kamloops early last season. Trask, who went on to put up 61 points, including 30 goals, with Saskatoon, is serving a two-game WHL suspension.
The Blades also will be without forward Josh Nicholls, who is their leading scorer but is nursing a wounded knee.
Tonight, Kamloops may face former Blazers goaltender Jon Groenheyde, whom the Broncos acquired from the Edmonton Oil Kings earlier this season. Groenheyde started last night but apparently became ill and left at 11:52 of the first period after surrendering two goals on five shots, including one from the neutral zone.
If Groenheyde can’t go, the Broncos will start Austin Smith, who is 3-5-0 but got his first home-ice victory last night.
JUST NOTES: Kamloops G Cole Cheveldave will start tonight. This will be his 10th start in the team’s last 11 games. . . . The Blazers spent last night watching the Rockets and Broncos. . . . Kamloops LW Brendan Ranford has 13 points, including nine assists, over his last six games. . . . Blazers D Austin Madaisky had the first four-point game of his career in Wednesday’s victory. Madaisky, who has played in 197 regular-season games, had had three three-point outings. . . . The Blazers held a promotion for the Kamloops Food Bank at Wednesday’s game and collected 3,000 pounds of food and $1,250. . . . Kamloops has been involved in 26 fights this season, but only one in its last seven games.