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Savings Centre in Kamloops.
(Murray Mitchell / The Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
For the most part, the evaluation process is over, and so is training camp.
The Kamloops Blazers will get down to the routine of practising today as they get ready to play their first WHL exhibition games.
The Blazers will visit the Kelowna Rockets on Friday and return home to face the Vancouver Giants on Sunday, 6 p.m. (On Saturday, the Rockets will play the Giants in Ladner.)
On Wednesday night, the Blazers put the wraps on another training camp as Team Blue scored an 8-4 victory over Team White in the annual intrasquad game.
For veteran forwards JC Lipon and Colin Smith, both 20 years of age, it may have been their last time in a Blazers uniform.
Lipon leaves next week for Winnipeg and the camp of the NHL’s Jets, who selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft. Smith departs Friday and will end up in Denver at the Colorado Avalanche’s camp.
Lipon has yet to sign a pro contract; Smith is under contract to Colorado, which selected him in the seventh round in 2012.
“We’re moving forward without them,” Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak said. “If we get them back, great.
“Our plan is to move forward without them. Those are big holes we need to plug somehow. Veteran guys need to step in.”
Hunchak has talked with Dean Chynoweth, the general manager and head coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, the Cleveland-based AHL affiliate of the Avalanche.
Based on those conversations, Hunchak said: “I don’t expect to get Colin Smith back.”
As for Lipon, he could end up with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps.
“He’ll do everything he can do stay there, as he should,” Hunchak said of Lipon. “For us to be sitting here and hoping that one of those guys comes back isn’t right. From an organizational standpoint, we want to move players up.”
Without Lipon and Smith, the Blazers are left with two 20-year-olds on their roster — defenceman Sam Grist and centre Joe Kornelsen. WHL teams are allowed to dress three such players per game.
Last night, the Blue guys erased a 1-0 deficit with three straight second-period goals, courtesy of Jake Kryski and Swiss imports Tim Bozon and Edson Harlacher. Cole Ully, with two, Deven Sideroff, Joe Kornelsen and Matt Needham also scored for Blue.
Team White got two goals from Chase Souto and singles from the Lipon brothers, Mitch and JC.
Hunchak quite liked what he saw, noting that the coaches have done some work on systems, some of which was evident on the ice.
“It was good as far as structure,” Hunchak said of the game, adding that some players had picked up the defensive-zone coverage and the forecheck in the neutral zone.
As for the much-watched scrap for the position backing up starting goaltender Taran Kozun, the winner is Cole Kehler, a youngster from Altona, Man., who played high school hockey last season. Kehler, who won’t turn 16 until Dec. 17, was beaten three times last night after coming on in relief of Kozun for Team Blue.
The Blazers released two 17-year-old goaltenders — Liam McLeod of Kamloops and Cameron Pateman of Regina — following the game. McLeod played Kozun to a 1-1 draw in the game’s first half; Pateman was beaten six times.
The Blazers also released forwards Jermaine Loewen and Laramie Kostelansky, along with defenceman Dawson Davidson and Cameron Trott.
Loewen, a 15-year-old from Arborg, Man., was a third-round pick in the 2013 bantam draft. He has signed with the Blazers and had a good camp.
Kostelansky, 16, from Fort MacLeod, Alta., was a 10th-round pick in the 2012 draft. Davidson, from Moosomin, Sask., was the 58th overall pick in the 2013 draft, while Trott, 16, from Port Moody, is the younger brother of Portland Winterhawks forward Jason Trott.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers still have two 1998-born players on their roster — 2013 first-rounders Quinn Benjafield and Kryski. Both are expected to see game action this weekend. . . . Hunchak said he expects the Rockets to “dress a good team” on Friday. “They will be motivated from last season,” he said. . . . The Blazers swept Kelowna from a second-round playoff series last spring. . . . Hunchak also said the Blazers will be wanting to push the Rockets. “We want to make sure to put our best foot forward every game,” he said. . . . Colorado’s three-day rookie camp opens Sept. 8 in Denver, with main camp starting Sept. 12. Smith, who signed a three-year NHL contract earlier this season, is on the roster wearing No. 37. . . . Ryan Huska, who won three Memorial Cups as a player with the Blazers, has signed a three-year extension as head coach of the Rockets. Huska, 38,now is signed through 2016-17. He is going into his seventh season as the Rockets’ head coach and his 12th season with the organization.
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