By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Head coach Guy Charron will start putting the pieces back into the puzzle that is the Kamloops Blazers tonight.
The Blazers (28-10-4) have been hit by injuries, illness and tournament-related absences ever since forward Dylan Willick went down with a broken ankle on Nov. 2.
However, Willick has been back for two games now and is starting to round into game shape.
“Willy hasn’t played a lot of hockey . . . he hasn’t played his best hockey so that is yet to come,” Charron said after Tuesday’s practice at Interior Savings Centre.
The influx will continue tonight as the Blazers play host to the Tri-City Americans (22-15-3).
Defenceman Tyler Hansen, who has missed two games, “is ready to go,” according to Charron.
“He’s had various blood tests, examinations and everything else,” Charron said. “Everything came clear so he’s ready to go.”
Hansen, who left a Dec. 29 game against the visiting Vancouver Giants with a minute left in the second period and didn’t return, practised Monday and yesterday.
Defenceman Marek Hrbas, who missed six games while with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, arrived back in Kamloops last night and could play tonight.
“It’ll be his option,” Charron said. “I’ll see how he is. I’ll talk to him. If he’s in the right frame of mind and he wants to play, great. If he’s not . . . he’s had a lot of travel so we’ll see.”
Right-winger JC Lipon, who missed eight games while with Team Canada, will rejoin the Blazers on Friday in Prince George for a weekend doubleheader against the Cougars. Lipon is at home in Regina with family.
Defenceman Jordan Thomson, who played for Team West at the U17 World Hockey Challenge in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Que., has returned and will be available tonight.
That leaves only centre Aspen Sterzer unavailable. Sterzer, who missed five November games with an injury, hasn’t played the past two games due to an undisclosed injury. Charron said Sterzer may miss another six games before perhaps returning Jan. 19 against the visiting Victoria Royals.
The Blazers go into tonight’s game having won three in a row, something that has allowed them to keep pace with the red-hot Kelowna Rockets (29-10-2). Kelowna has won six in a row and is tied with the Blazers atop the B.C. Division.
Charron said he will give the goaltending start to sophomore Cole Cheveldave, who has been hooked from each of his previous two starts and has watched Taran Kozun make back-to-back starts.
Most of all, though, Charron said he is eager to get all of his players back on the ice together.
“It would be nice,” he said. “You project and you see the acquisitions we have made . . . I think we’ve got something good here. But you’ll never know until all the pieces are there.
“We have to get chemistry with everybody, too. It’s not automatic that things are going to work out.”
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. . . . The Americans rode their bus to Kelowna on Monday. They will drive to Kamloops today, return to Kelowna after the game and play the Rockets there on Friday. . . . The Blazers are 16-2-2 at home; the Americans are 12-8-1 on the road. . . . The Blazers beat the visiting Americans 3-2 on Nov. 30. . . . The Americans have signed F Matthew Gelinas, 17, and he is expected to make his WHL debut tonight. He is the son of fomer NHLer Martin Gelinas, who now is an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames. . . .
After playing a Friday-Saturday doubleheader in Prince George, the Blazers will travel to Victoria for Tuesday-Wednesday games with the Royals and then will visit the Americans on Jan. 18. . . . The WHL trade deadline arrives Thursday at 2 p.m. Charron said he doesn’t expect the Blazers to be active. “I think we’re in pretty good shape the way we are right now,” he said, “so we’ll see.” . . . The Blazers made a major move when they acquired D Joel Edmundson, 19, from the Moose Jaw Warriors on Dec. 6. They also acquired LW Kale Kessy, 20, from the Vancouver Giants on Jan. 2.
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