Sunday, March 25, 2012

Notes from Victoria vs. Kamloops

Daily News Sports Editor
When the Kamloops Blazers acquired defenceman Marek Hrbas from the Edmonton Oil Kings on June 27, they said they were getting him for his puck-moving abilities.
It turns out they got a whole lot more than that.
Hrbas, who had a goal and 24 assists in 67 regular-season games, has been a physical force through two games of a first-round WHL playoff series with the Victoria Royals.
By today’s standards, Hrbas isn’t big — at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds — but he is proving to be the fire hydrant or the brick wall about which people sometimes talk.
“People told me to be more physical because I’m not a real tall guy,” Hrbas said after the Blazers had taken a 2-0 series lead with a 7-4 victory over the visiting Royals on Saturday night. “I have to show that i can be physical, too, and finish my checks. I love it . . . that’s my game.”
Hrbas, who is from Plzen, Czech Republic, turned 19 on March 4. After his freshman season with Edmonton, in which he had 17 points in 64 games, Hrbas said he had a hard offseason.
“I did a good job last summer,” he said. “I got bigger, put on some pounds, 10 pounds of muscle.”
Hrbas, who has a great sense of humour and a captivating smile,  laughed and added: “I hope it’s all muscle.”
It is. If you don’t believe that, just ask any number of the Royals who have felt his wrath.
“I have to be strong, win the battles on the boards . . . it’s good,” Hrbas said. “That’s my job.”
To this point, he has done it well.
The Blazers gave up their 2011 first-round import draft pick, 18th overall, and a fifth-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft to get Hrbas and the 27th selection in the import draft.
The Oil Kings used that 18th pick on Slovakian Martin Gernat, who led all first-year defencemen with 55 points in 60 games.
With the 27th selection, the Blazers took left-winger Tim Bozon, who is the Western Conference’s rookie of the year.
Victoria assistant coach Enio Sacilotto is a veteran of the hockey wars, having made stops everywhere from the BCHL to Europe.
While in Europe, he coached a professional team in Lugano, Switzerland, whose roster included Philippe Bozon, who would go on to play in the NHL, and Sandro Bertaggia.
Bozon is the father of Tim Bozon, while Bertaggia’s son Alessio is in his first season with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Sacilotto remembers Tim, who turned 18 on Saturday, and Alessio, also 18, skating after practices in Lugano “when they were about this high,” he says, holding one hand about three feet above the floor.
Anyone who has watched Tim Bozon play this season with the Blazes has seen a  competitive streak. Sacilotto knows how Bozon got it.
“Phil was a real fierce competitor,” Sacilotto said.
There was a time when Logan Nelson was the quarterback of his high school football team. That would be a big deal in a place like Rogers, Minn., a city of 8,500 people located just northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
These days, however, Nelson is a hockey player.
“My dad was a little upset but I think he’ll live,” Nelson, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound winger with the Royals, said with a chuckle.
So . . . why hockey over football?
“Hockey gave me a place where I was myself and I didn’t have to play for somebody else,” Nelson explained. “It reminded me of myself growing up. It gave me a place to get away. If I was having a bad day, hockey was the only thing that could fix it.
“I knew it was hockey over football.”
The road to a serious hockey career began at a United States Hockey League camp. His appearance there resulted in his playing a season of midget hockey in Kansas City.
From there, he moved on to the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers. He had nine points, including six goals, in 41 games there.
“The USHL,” he said, is a more defensive league than (the WHL).”
While all of this was happening, Marc Habscheid had taken over as general manager and head coach of the then-Chilliwack Bruins and was trying to strengthen the club’s presence in areas of the U.S.
Habscheid contact a couple of people, one of them being Mark Scott, who played for the Habscheid-coached Kamloops Blazers in 1997-98 and who now runs hockey camps in various areas of Canada and the U.S.
One thing led to another and the Royals placed Nelson on their protected list. And they’re glad they did.
Nelson, 18, had a fine first season, putting up 62 points, including 23 goals, in 71 games. He also was only minus-2 on a team that allowed a WHL-leading 325 goals.
Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers’ majority owner, was in Dallas watching his Stars score a 4-1 NHL victory over the Flames on Saturday night. His father, Bob, was in the owners’ box at Interior Savings Centre. . . . Victoria F Taylor Crunk scored the Royals’ last goal; it was his first WHL goal. He had two assists in 39 regular-season games. Crunk, who turned 17 on Jan. 20, is from San Jacinto, Calif. . . . Blazers F Colin Smith had a tough night, taking four minor penalties, two for goaltender interference. His minors were responsible for four of Victoria’s five power plays. . . . It was nine years ago yesterday when the Kootenay Ice beat the visiting Blazers 3-2 with a goal in the fourth OT period. F Colin Sinclair ended the longest game in WHL history with a goal at 16:56 of the fourth extra period. Kamloops G Davis Parley stopped 77 shots, nine more than Jeff Glass of the Ice.

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