By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
A year ago, the position most worth watching as the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers prepared for the start of the season was goaltending.
This time around, with main camp having started on Sunday at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, the goaltending is pretty much settled, Cole Cheveldave having seized the throne last season. Cheveldave, 19, is back, of course, and he is THE MAN in the crease. Taran Kozan, 18, is expected to serve as backup, although it could be that Braden Krogfoss, 17, applies a little pressure on him.
This time around, the big show will be on defence where the depth chart may be 10 skaters deep.
“There are some real quality young guys coming in,” said Dave Hunchak, the Blazers’ associate coach who handles the team’s back end.
Right now, the roster features six defencemen who were here last season, including Austin Madaisky, 20. Should Madaisky end up here again, he would be the horse on defence. But he is under contract to the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It’s really not in our control,” Hunchak said. “With what Columbus’s plans are, if a lockout happens he’ll end up probably going to Springfield’s camp and sort it out from there. That’s not until late September.”
The Springfield Falcons are the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, which is where Madaisky likely would play under normal circumstances. However, if the NHL locks out the NHLPA on Sept. 15, perhaps Columbus would find itself with a glut of defencemen in Springfield, meaning Madaisky could end up back in Kamloops.
“If there is no lockout,” Hunchak said, “he’ll go to Columbus and we’ll go from there.”
Still, the Blazers have five other veterans back there – Tyler Hansen and Marek Hrbas, both 19, and Tyler Bell, Landon Cross and Brady Gaudet, all 18.
At a glance, there are four newcomers, two of them born in 1995 and the other two in 1996, pushing for spots.
Josh Connolly of Prince George, who missed most of last season with a concussion, and Ryan Rehill of Edmonton, who travelled with the Blazers in last season’s late going, are the older two. Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa, Man., the fourth overall pick in the 2011 bantam draft, and Connor Clouston of Medicine Hat, the son of Tigers’ GM/head coach Shaun Clouston, are the pups.
“You’ve got Connolly, who’s 17 and ready to step in. He’s a smart player,” Hunchak said. “You’ve got Thompson . . . you’ve got Rehill . . . you’ve got Clouston . . . you’ve got a lot of guiys to pick and choose from.
“And with the unknown with Madaisky it’s goiing to be a challenge to see exactly how we’re going to figure out the back end.”
Connolly, a third-round selection in the 2010 bantam draft, is a puck-mover who is the younger brother of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly. During his WHL career with the Prince George Cougars, it often was said the Brett’s conditioning was suspect. He fixed that last summer, by spending a lot of time in Toronto working with former NHL’er Gary Roberts, who is a conditioning guru. This summer, Josh joined them.
“He’s trained very hard,” Hunchak said. “He looks to be in excellent shape. He’s a special player. He sees the game differently than a lot of guys do. At times, I know he’s going to make my hair turn grey because he does things so nonchalant at times but he makes it look so easy.”
Connolly had 27 points in 30 games as a 15-year-old with the major midget Cariboo Cougars in 2010-11. Last season, the concussion limited him to 12 games in which he put up 15 points.
Rehill, who won’t turn 17 until Nov. 7, was taken in the sixth round of the 2010 bantam draft. Last season, he had 18 points in 18 games with the midget AA South Side Athletic Club, and added four points in 12 games with the midget AAA Maple Leaf Athletic Club squad. After his season ended in Edmonton, he skated with the Blazers, who see him as a shutdown-type guy.
“I think he’s quicker (than last season),” Hunchak said. “He’s more confident with his play right now. He’s a guy who at some point is going to have to assert himself as a shutdown player. That’s the type of player he’s going to have to be in our league. He has to model himself after a guy like Tyler Hansen or Tyler Bell.
“We’ll have those chats as camp goes on and as camp gets deeper we look to see him improve.”
If there is a veteran defenceman under the microscope, it is Brady Gaudet, 18, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 bantam draft. The Blazers had hoped Gaudet, from Redvers, Sask., would be the guy to run their power play, but he struggled last season and played just 49 games as he missed eight games with a concussion and was a healthy scratch on 15 occasions.
“He’s come back in better shape. He’s had a good start to camp,” Hunchak said. “We’ll let the cards fall where they may.”
As Hunchak put it: “Veterans are going to get pushed and that’s the kind of competition we want.”
JUST NOTES: The Blazers wrapped up rookie camp on Saturday and took 33 of those players to main camp, swelling that roster to 63. That number will be trimmed to about 40 before Tuesday’s Blue-White game (Interior Savings Centre, 7 p.m.). . . . A few more players will be reassigned after that game as the Blazers prepare to meet the visiting Victoria Royals on Thursday. . . . Training camp shifts to the ISC today with scrimmages at 9 and 10:30 a.m., and noon. . . . Veteran F Dylan Willick (lower body) skated Sunday but didn’t scrimmage.
Main Training Camp Roster (63)
(x – veteran; y – injured; year of birth in parentheses)
Goal (6) — Carson Bogdan (96),Regina; x-Cole Cheveldave (93), Calgary; Cole Kehler (97), Altona, Man.; Taran Kozun (94), Nipawin, Sask.; Braden Krogfoss (95), Cloverdale; Ryan Ternes (97), Calgary.
Defence (21) — Gordie Ballhorn (97), Wetaskiwin, Alta.; x-Tyler Bell (94), Regina; Mitchell Brennan (97), Calgary; Connor Cloutson (96), Medicine Hat; Josh Connolly (95), Prince George; x-Landon Cross (94), Brandon; Steven Fehr (97), Abbotsford; Mackenzie Ferner (95), Vernon; Jaiden Focht (96), Saskatoon; x-Brady Gaudet (94), Redvers, Sask.; Connor Hamonic (96), Winnipeg; x-Tyler Hansen (93), Magrath, Alta; x-Marek Hrbas (93), Plzen, Czech Republic; Riley Hummitsch (96), Anaheim Hills, Calif.; x-Austin Madaisky (92), Surrey; Cole Catskill (96), Kamloops; Mark O’Shaughnessy (97), North Vancouver; Cameron Reagan (97), Sherwood Park, Alta.; Ryan Rehill (95), Edmonton; Jordan Thomson (96), Wawanesa, Man.; y-Calen Whitworth (97), Surrey.
Forwards (36) — x-Brock Balson (93), Kamloops; Spencer Bast (97), Macklin, Sask.; Josh Blanchard (96), Kelowna; x-Tim Bozon (94), Lugano, Switzerland; Nick Chyzowski (97), Kamloops; x-Jordan DePape (92), Winnipeg; Rylan Freed (96), Melfort, Sask.; Mitch Friesen (96), Surrey; Charlie Garlicky (97), Edmonton; Brayden Gelsinger (95), Regina; Jayden Halbgewachs (97), Emerald Park, Sask.; Ezra Hall (96), Winnipeg; Tyler Jeanson (97), Graysville, Man.; Jeran Knorr (97), Kelowna; Laramie Kostelansky (97), Fort Macleod, Alta.; Eric Krienke (96), Calgary; Paulsen Lautard (95), Midway; x-J.C. Lipon (93), Regina; Mitchell Lipon (96), Regina; Aaron Macklin (95), High River, Alta.; Tyson McLellan (96), San Jose, Calif.; Kyler Nachtigall (96), Calgary; x-Matt Needham (95), Penticton; y-Devin Oakes (95), Prince Rupert; x-Brendan Ranford (92), Edmonton; Jesse Shynkaruk (96), Saskatoon; Devin Sideoff (97), Summerland; Brodie Smith (97), Parksville; x-Colin Smith (93), Edmonton; x-Chase Souto (94), Yorba Linda, Calif.; Josh Stang (97), Macklin, Sask.; x-Aspen Sterzer (94), Canal Flats; Evan Tordiff (96), Fort Smith, NWT; x-Rob Trzonkowski (94), Calgary; x-Cole Ully (95), Calgary; x-Dylan Willick (92), Prince George.
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