By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Guy Charron remembers it as though it was yesterday.
Now the head coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, Charron then was a youngster with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens, the proudest of all organizations, had missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years in 1969-70, a season in which Charron had played five games with Montreal. Now it was early in the 1970-71 season and the Habs, under legendary general manager Sam Pollock, were preparing to play the Detroit Red Wings, who had been largely responsible for Montreal not qualifying the previous spring.
“Before our first game against Detroit,” Charron said Thursday, “Sam Pollock told us that was the team that kicked us out of the playoffs.” As though Charron and his teammates needed a reminder . . .
Well, that was then and this is now.
Charron’s Blazers are scheduled to close out the WHL’s regular season by going home-and-home with the Prince George Cougars. They’ll play here tonight and there Saturday night, just as they did a year ago.
Yes, it was just one year ago when the Cougars won 3-2 in a shootout at Interior Savings Centre to end the Blazers’ hopes of making the playoffs. The Cougars completed the sweep the next night, winning 5-1 at home.
“I hope that we have a good memory of what happened last season,” Charron said, “and that we can avenge ourselves a little bit.”
This season, the roles are reversed, with the Blazers having known for a while that they will be in the playoffs, while the Cougars are hanging on by the narrowest of margins.
The Blazers will go into the Western Conference playoffs as the No. 2 seed, thanks to having won the B.C. Division, and will play the No. 7 seed, a position that hasn’t yet been decided.
The Cougars, meanwhile, need to sweep the Blazers and get help in order to gain a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot. That would force a sudden-death play-in game on Tuesday at the home of the team with the most regular-season victories.
The Cougars are coming off a 5-4 overtime victory over the host Tri-City Americans on Tuesday, a victory that kept alive those slim hopes.
The Blazers dropped a 6-4 decision to the Chiefs in Spokane on Wednesday, a loss that took them out of the chase for first place in the Western Conference.
“There were a lot of things we didn’t do as a team that we need to do to be successful in the playoffs,” Charron said in looking at the game in Spokane. “We’re an offensively minded team, and we need to be committed defensively.
“I know that (our players) are offensively greedy a lot more than defensively greedy. For us to be successful in the playoffs, we have to realize that we have to be more committed to defence. When we do that we’re a good team.”
Charron took over as the Blazers’ head coach during the 2009-10 season, a season that ended when they were swept from the first round by the Vancouver Giants.
After watching Vancouver beat his guys, Charron said he decided “that’s the team we have to become to be a successful team in this league. That was the image I was projecting for our team to be.”
He saw a Vancouver team that played good defence and had a lot of structure. And that is what he is trying to build here, alongside associate coach Dave Hunchak.
“You look at our season . . . some people may say it’s to my image because it’s all offensive,” Charron said. “But I have known over the years that you can’t win consistently and you can’t be successful in the playoffs unless you play good defence with good structure.
“That’s what we didn’t do (Wednesday) night.”
Charron said he is well aware that the perception of the Blazers is as a team that has offence, speed and quickness, and has the ability to capitalize on another team’s mistakes. But he wants to see more than that.
“I haven’t heard anyone say that this is a great team or this is a team that defensively is really tough to play against,” Charron explained. “That’s the area that we need to establish. It’s not that we’re not capable of doing it; if we put our minds to it we can.
“We are a good team. We have a great opportunity and it’s up to us to put our minds to it.”
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. . . . Goaltender Cole Cheveldave, who left Wednedsay’s game after one period due to illness, was fine yesterday and took part in a full practice. He is expected to start tonight. . . . The Blazers have added G Taran Kozun, 17, to their roster. He started the season with the Blazers, going 1-1-0, 3.52, .857 before being assigned to the SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks on Oct. 17. He played in 16 games with Nipawin, going 5-10-0, 3.30, .904. . . . Blazers F Chase Schaber, who has missed four games with a leg injury, isn’t expected to play in either of this weekend’s game. Schaber was on the ice yesterday, but was wearing a yellow ‘no contact’ jersey. Charron said it is better to give Schaber the extra rest rather than to risk further injury. . . . The Blazers will play Games 1 and 2 of their first-round playoff series at home on March 23 and 24. . . . Kamloops is 2-5-0 in its last seven home games. . . . The Blazers are 6-2-0 in the season series against the Cougars, and have won each of the last four games.
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