By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Yes, it’s only the exhibition season. But, still, there are things to prove.
For example, the Kamloops Blazers, after years and years of wandering in the hinterlands of the WHL’s B.C. Division, finished in first place last season.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Giants once were kings of the B.C. hill, having put together five straight first-place finishes before ending up in second in each of the past two seasons.
So, while coaches try to sort out their rosters for a regular season that opens in 16 days, there will be at least some pride on the line tonight when the two teams meet at Interior Savings Centre. Game time is 7 o’clock.
“Perhaps some of our players may think that way,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said after Tuesday’s practice at the ISC. “For me, Vancouver will always be a team that plays a certain way. These are the kinds of challenges you want for your players because you know the effort that is going to be asked is going to be high. It’s a good way to evaluate your kids.
“You separate the men from the boys in these games.”
The Blazers are 2-0, having twice beaten the Victoria Royals — 4-2 here on Thursday and 5-3 in Maple Ridge on Friday.
The Giants are 1-1. They lost 4-3 to the Kelowna Rockets in Ladner on Friday and then won 3-2 in a shootout in Kelowna on Saturday.
Charron has been the Blazers’ head coach since Nov. 23, 2009, so has been around long enough to know what to expect from the Giants, no matter the time of season.
As Charron said, head coach Don Hay’s “teams are hard-working hockey teams. He doesn’t accept teams that don’t push to their hardest.”
There was a time a couple of years ago when Charron talked about wanting his team to have that kind of an identity, something he feels was attained last season.
“That’s part of an identity that we have created . . . we don’t allow other teams to outwork us,” Charron said. “Teams would take an approach to be physical with us and we stood up to it and we matched the bumping. Consequently, it gave us a bit of a positive side because teams, as much as they want to do it, don’t like it when it’s done to them.
“We have the kind of team that, if we match the effort, hopefully our skill will prevail.”
The Blazers’ roster is pretty much set, although they still are carrying 30 players. One of those — forward Nick Chyzowski — will make his WHL debut tonight but, at 15 years of age, is too young to play regularly this season.
As well, Jesse Shynkaruk, a 16-year-old from Saskatoon, will open between veterans Brendan Ranford and Dylan Willick.
The Giants, meanwhile, lost their No. 1 centre when Jordan Martinook, a 40-goal man last season, signed with the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes over the weekend. He was a second-round selection in the NHL’s 2012 draft. At 20, he is likely to open the season with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in Maine, the Portland Pirates.
Vancouver also has an interesting battle going on in goal as it looks to replace the graduated Adam Morrison. The Giants continue to carry five goaltenders, with Liam Liston, 19, an offseason acquisition from the Lethbridge Hurricanes, perhaps the favourite to open the season in the starter’s role. However, he is being pushed by Payton Lee, 17, and three 16-year-olds — Angus Redmond, Tyler Fuhr and Jackson Whistle. Lee and Whistle both saw some playing time in Vancouver last season.
JUST NOTES: G Taran Kozun is to make his second straight start for the Blazers tonight. . . . Among the Blazers’ scratches are expected to be D Jordan Thomson, D Tyler Bell, D Austin Madaisky and RW J.C. Lipon, who had three goals in Maple Ridge on Friday. . . . F Brock Balson (groin) is day-to-day, while F Devin Oakes, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, won’t be ready until next month. . . . The Blazers and Giants will meet again Friday, this time in Ladner. . . . Former Blazers D Todd Carnelley has left the organization after spending the last year as the director of ticketing. He has been replaced by Missy Cederholm, who has been named ticketing and promotions co-ordinator. . . . The Blazers are holding auditions for anthem singers on Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. If you are interested, report to Section R for registration and you will be given the opportunity to sing. For more info, contact Ashley Neuls at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-828-1144.
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