|Chase Schaber, the captain of the Kamloops Blazers, here in action|
against the host Seattle Thunderbirds earlier this season, is expected
to return from a six-game absence on Friday.
(Photo by Christopher Mast / mastimages.com)
By GREGG DRINNANChase Schaber has played hockey for most of his 21 years but never has he enjoyed a season like this one.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
It stands to reason, then, that he doesn’t want it to end.
“This has been the funnest year of hockey I’ve ever had,” the captain of the Kamloops Blazers said Tuesday following practice at Interior Savings Centre. “It’s something I’ll never forget, and we’re going to keep the train rolling.”
The Blazers, who finished the regular season atop the WHL’s B.C. Division and are the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, open the playoffs on Friday against the No. 7 Victoria Royals, who finished 44 points behind Kamloops. Game time at Interior Savings Centre will be 7 p.m.
Schaber, who missed the regular season’s last six games with a leg injury, finished with 52 points, including 23 goals, and 71 penalty minutes in 61 games.
But his game is about more — a whole lot more — than goals and assists.
“He’s the team captain,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “Having him in the lineup is going to make the team more energized. The way he plays sometimes dictates the style of play . . . puts everyone in the same mood.”
Schaber also had leg problems last season when he was limited to 46 games.
“I feel good. I feel great . . . good to go,” he said.
He knows that he needs to be healthy for the playoff grind, especially because the Royals are a bigger team.
“They always compete,” Schaber said. “They’re a bunch of big guys who like to be physical. We have to counter that with our speed . . . keep putting pucks into their zone and keep making them turn their backs.”
Most of Victoria’s size is on its back end, where the likes of Tyler Stahl (6-foot-2), Jordan Fransoo (6-foot-3), Keegan Kanzig (6-foot-5) and Kade Pilton (6-foot-5) hang out.
The Blazers know the Royals are going to come out with an aggressive game. The Blazers also know that they are going to have to mind their manners with the officials.
“They’re big so they like to try and act tough in front of their net,” Schaber said. “It’s a matter of discipline with us. We play hard between the whistles and after the whistles we skate away from things. That’s going to be one of our focuses in the playoffs, for sure.
“If you take an extra retaliation penalty in front of the net, that could make a huge difference in a game because specialty teams are such a huge factor in playoffs. We don’t want to give them any man advantages, so we’re going to play smart after the whistles . . . we’re going to go to the net hard but once we hear the whistle we’re out of there.”
The Blazers’ power play ranked sixth (23.8 per cent) during the regular season, but only two teams scored more goals than their 84. The Royals’ penalty killers finished 13th, at 77.7 per cent.
The Royals’ power play, meanwhile, was 15th (20.1 per cent), but also gave up a WHL-high 19 shorthanded goals. Considering that that Blazers were one of four teams with a WHL-leading 16 shorthanded goals, that could be a factor.
“We’re going to approach it like we always approach it and play our game,” Schaber said. “When we do that, teams usually get frustrated. We have to keep pucks in and not turn it over . . . we have to finish our checks, too.”
For most of his time with the Blazers, Schaber has skated on a line with left-winger Brendan Ranford. Schaber isn’t likely to be there on Friday, though, as Ranford has found some chemistry with Brandon Herrod and Jordan DePape.
It’s more likely that Schaber will be with Matt Needham and either Cole Ully or Dylan Willick. Not that it matters to Schaber.
“I just want to be out there and play my game,” he said. “When I play my game, it’s big for the team. It’s a presence because I like to be out there and be physical and create energy.”
Having their captain back means the Blazers will be able to follow his lead.
“Players look up to him because of the way he plays,” Charron said. “When he plays his best, he’s an impact player physically. He’s a good skater and he leads in the way he plays. When he plays that way, it motivates other players to play in that way.
“In the dressing room and off the ice, he has made huge strides . . . he has helped mend this team to be what it is as far as getting along so well off the ice.”
Ah, yes, the spectre of what used to be.
Schaber also was the captain of the team that missed last season’s playoffs and struggled so mightily with its discipline. That, however, is yesterday’s news.
“Everyone gets along well . . . there’s no cliques in there,” Schaber said. “It’s a family in the dressing room.”
Prior to each of the last two seasons, Schaber has been in camp with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. He hasn’t yet signed a pro contract though; he knows only that he wants to play professionally.
But that is something he’ll deal with down the road. For now, it’s playoff time and he knows that he badly wants to get back to playing hockey.
“I’ve had enough watching from upstairs,” he said.
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