Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blazers ready for Royal visit

Daily News Sports Editor
There weren’t a lot of surprises during the Kamloops Blazers’ training camp that wrapped up with Tuesday night’s intrasquad game.
Shortly after the game ended, the WHL team’s braintrust trimmed the roster to 31 players, including two forwards — Jayden Halbgewachs and Nick Chyzowski — who are too young to play this season. They are likely to be re-assigned after playing in tonight’s exhibition game against the visiting Victoria Royals.
Game time at Interior Savings Centre is 7 o’clock.
The latest round of cuts left the Blazers with two goaltenders, 10 defencemen and 17 forwards, not including the two aforementioned 15-year-olds.
The goaltending situation isn’t at all surprising as head coach Guy Charron and associate coach Dave Hunchak, with input from goaltending coach Dan De Palma, have chosen to go with sophomore Cole Cheveldave and freshman Taran Kozun, an 18-year-old from Nipawin, Sask., who actually started last season in a Blazers uniform.
On defence, the 10 skaters include six veterans and four newcomers, all of whom were mentioned by Hunchak last week as being capable of competing for roster spots. It is likely that Jordan Thomson, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 bantam draft, Josh Connolly, whose high-risk, high-reward game was in evidence on Tuesday, and stay-at-home guys Ryan Rehill and Connor Clouston will have some say before the regular season opens.
Up front, the Blazers are going to take long looks at Mitch Friesen, a 16-year-old left winger from Surrey who, at 6-foot-3 and 171 pounds, brings some much-needed size to the lineup. The same holds for 6-foot-2, 189-pound Aaron Macklin, a 17-year-old left winger out of High River, Alta., and right-winger Devin Oakes, who is 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds. Oakes, from Prince Rupert, is recovering from off-season surgery and has yet to see action.
During Tuesday night’s intrasquad game, veteran left-winger Brendan Ranford had the opportunity to play a few shifts with Halbgewachs, the Blazers’ first pick in the 2012 bantam draft.
Ranford, who was a first-round pick in 2007, was impressed.
“We’re six years apart,” he said. “He’s almost the exact same player I was. Maybe he’s a little more finesse. He’s a helluva hockey player.
“That goal he scored shorthanded was . . . patience. The pass he gave to me was pretty exceptional. Not a lot of guys in the WHL can make that pass let alone a kid who just came up.”
Halbgewachs and Ranford combined on two goals, the former scoring a nifty goal when he waited for goaltender Cole Kehler to go down and then put it upstairs, the latter scoring, also shorthanded, after getting a big league pass from the kid.
Halbgewachs may end up facing his older brother, Brandon, in tonight’s game. Brandon, 18, is in camp with the Royals.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Victoria defenceman Joe Hicketts, 16, who is from Kamloops. He was the 12th overall selection in the 2011 bantam draft and spent last season at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.
Hicketts signed with the Royals a year ago and, in fact, played an exhibition game against the Blazers at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre.
However, he knew then that a WHL rule prohibiting 15-year-old players would keep him off the Royals’ roster. That isn’t the case this time.
“I’m ready,” the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Hicketts told Mario Annicchiarico of the Victoria Times Colonist late last week. “I’m just going to let the expectations slide and just perform my best, that’s my mindset coming in. I’m just going to let my on-ice performance do the talking.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been working hard for the last year and a half for this. I got drafted and this is the year I want to do something.”
Grant Armstrong, the Royals’ director of player personnel, said Hickett has a bright future with the club.
“He’s going to be, at some point, a huge contributor to the group in terms of being the leader and the kind of guy that runs your power play and does good things from the offensive-side of defence,” Armstrong said.
“He does a good job of positioning himself to eliminate that big guy from getting to the net. He’s going to be a good one — a real good junior hockey player, who when he leaves Victoria at age 21, he’s going to have a nice junior hockey career behind him.”
JUST NOTES: The Blazers and Royals also will play Friday night, this time in Maple Ridge. . . . The Blazers’ next home game is Wednesday, 7 p.m., against the Vancouver Giants. . . . Ranford arrived at training camp at 181 pounds. He said his weight hasn’t been in that vicinity since he arrived at camp as a 16-year-old weighing 182. “I’m a lot faster and I’m a lot quicker,” said Ranford, who is working with a nutritionist.
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