Daily News Sports Editor
Prior to last season, Chase Souto had never played on a hockey team that won anything.
So he is especially looking forward to Friday night when he and his Kamloops Blazers teammates will begin the WHL season with a banner-raising ceremony.
“Oh yeah,” he said after practice on Wednesday at Interior Savings Centre, “this will be fun, especially getting to see a banner going up. It’s going to be a good feeling.
“Watching it go up and thinking about all the guys who were with us . . . that’s going to be real special.”
The Kelowna Rockets will provide the opposition on Friday — game time is 7 o’clock —
|Chase Souto of the Kamloops Blazers celebrates a|
goal in a 3-0 victory over the visiting Lethbridge
Hurricanes last season.
(Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
“We haven’t started against them since I’ve been here so I’m excited for it,” Souto said. “We’ll get the rivalry fired up.”
While the Blazers were finishing atop the B.C. Division last season, the Rockets were grinding their way to a third-place finish. They then lost a first-round playoff series to the Portland Winterhawks, who went on to finish off the Blazers in Game 7 of a second-round affair.
But it was in the playoffs — a four-game sweep of the Victoria Royals preceded the series with Portland — that Souto came of age. He put up six points, three of them goals, in nine games after a regular-season in which he had 20 points, and 62 penalty minutes, in 57 outings.
“I had a good playoff and I think it proved that I can be an offensive asset to this team and be gritty,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing that all season.”
The grittiness of the 18-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif., never has been in question. As a 16-year-old freshman in 2010-11, he was a bit undersized but that didn’t deter him. He picked up 62 minutes in penalties, with 40 of those coming from fighting majors. Yes, he almost always was the smaller of the combatants but he just kept showing up.
He only scrapped four times last season, primarily because he injured a finger in his first bout, with defenceman Linden Springer of the Prince George Cougars, and it bothered him for much of the season.
Going into this season, Souto has matured and realizes that having had concussion issues in the past, he needs to pick his spots.
“I don’t need to do it all the time,” he said, “but the way I play it will attract some guys to fight me.”
Souto received a real scare in a Sept. 5 exhibition game against visiting Vancouver when Giants forward Anthony Ast got him in the head with a shoulder/elbow combination. Ast was tossed from the game and later drew a four-game suspension.
“At first, I was kind of worried,” Souto said. “I tried to get up but I couldn’t see out of my left eye. But that was just because my helmet came down and my visor hit me right across the face. I tried to get up, I looked around but I couldn’t see anything, so I just stayed down.”
Ast, a 17-year-old who had 19 penalty minutes in 2011-12, missed some time last season after being the victim of a blindside hit from Prince George defenceman Martin Marincin.
“I wasn’t expecting that, not from (Ast), especially,” Souto said. “He got hit pretty hard by Marincin last season.”
Up until that hit, Souto may have been the Blazers’ best forward through two-plus exhibition games. When that was suggested to head coach Guy Charron, he said, “I won’t disagree with you.”
Souto ended up with two goals in four exhibition games, but he showed more than that. He was aggressive and played with emotion, but maintained his cool. And he had no problem doing the heavy lifting in the corners.
Souto said he put on “20 pounds . . . a solid 20 pounds” over the summer, meaning he carries 175 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.
He will open the season on a line centred by Matt Needham, another third-year skater, and sophomore Cole Ully. With the Blazers’ top two lines expected to draw maximum attention from the opposition, Souto and Co. are likely to have matchup opportunities that favour them.
“Needham’s a good centre,” Souto said. “We fit well together . . . and Ully’s a good skill guy. I fit well with them and if anyone tries causing a ruckus out there I get to take care of it.”
While Souto had some personal success in last spring’s playoff run, he really enjoyed the team success. And, he said, he can see more of that in the Blazers’ future.
“Coming into my 17-year-old season, I could see a big difference,” he explained. “In camp, we had the same team back and everyone was on the same page. When I was 16, it seemed like we were all over the place.”
Asked what he sees for this season, based on training camp, he replied: “This season, I see the same thing but even better.”
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