By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers are getting down to the nitty gritty.
And things will get nittier and grittier tonight as the WHL team holds its annual Blue-White intrasquad game, 7 p.m., at the Interior Savings Centre.
The Blazers have 39 players left in training camp. Most of them took part in a controlled scrimmage on Tuesday night, the exceptions being five veterans — forwards Tim Bozon, JC Lipon, Matt Needham and Colin Smith, along with goaltender Taran Kozun.
All hands are expected to be on deck tonight, however.
“The two games will tell the tale for some of the players,” head coach Dave Hunchak said. “It allows us to give a real good evaluation to those kids who are on the bubble.”
While the microscope is on everyone, it is especially on Cole Kehler of Altona, Man., Liam McLeod of Kamloops and Cameron Pateman of Regina, who are competing to back up starting goaltender Taran Kozun.
Each played two periods last night — Teams Black and Orange played 5-on-5 in the first, 4-on-4 in the second and alternated special teams in the third — and it is quite possible that Kehler, who doesn’t turn 16 until Dec. 17, has the edge on the two 17-year-olds going into tonight’s intrasquad game.
However, the highlight of training camp, at least to now, may well be the team’s 1998-born players.
As Hunchak said: “The ’98 group, the forwards we have, that’s a special group of kids.”
That group is headed up by two first-round selections from the 2013 bantam draft — Quinn Benjafield of North Vancouver, whom the Blazers took with the 19th overall pick, and Jake Kryski of Vancouver, the 11th overall pick who was acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders in the Cole Cheveldave exchange — and Jermaine Loewen of Arborg, Man., who was a third-round selection.
“Benjafield is a strong power forward,” Hunchak said. “Kryski has a lot of skill and plays a great 200-foot game. And just look at Jermaine Lowewne and the package he brings. He’s going to be something special down the road, too.”
Hunchak also pointed to Garrett Pilon, another 1998-born forward. From Saskatoon, the son of former NHL defenceman Rich Pilon was taken in the seventh round.
“Pilon looks like he’s playing pond hockey all the time,” Hunchak said, “and I mean that in a good way. He always looks like he’s enjoying the game and having fun.”
After last night’s scrimmage, Pilon was assigned to the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts.
It’s not known what the forward lines will look like tonight, but Loewen, Kryski and Benjafield, left to right, were on the ice together a fair amount last night. It’s fair to say that they created some magic.
JUST NOTES: Team Orange beat Team Black 8-7 in a shootout last night. Nick Chyzowski had two goals, plus the shootout winner. Kryski and Joe Kornelsen also scored twice for Orange, while Nathan Looysen and Chase Souto each scored twice for Black. . . . The Blazers also assigned F Spencer Bast of Macklin, Sask., to the midget AAA Battlefords Stars and F Josh Stang, who also is from Macklin, to the midget AAA Swift Current Legionnaires. . . . The WHL’s exhibition season began last night with the host Swift Current Broncos beating the Moose Jaw Warriors, 5-4. . . . The Blazers meet the Rockets in Kelowna on Friday and then are at home to the Vancouver Giants on Sunday, 6 p.m. . . . D Connor Hamonic, 17, of Winnipeg, a seventh-round pick by the Blazers in 2011, was released by the Red Deer Rebels yesterday. . . .
F Max James, 16, of Kamloops has signed a WHL deal with the Tri-City Americans, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 bantam draft. James had 12 points in 40 games with the major midget Thompson Blazers last season. . . . Pat Mangold, who played for the WHL Blazers in 1984-85, was killed Saturday evening on Okanagan Lake near Kelowna when the personal watercraft on which he was riding struck a log boom near Traders Cove. Mangold, 47, was a native of Kelowna, who also played in the WHL with the Calgary Wranglers. With the Blazers, he had 20 points, nine of them goals, in 53 games.
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