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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Kozun to open camp as Blazers' starter

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor

The vacation is over.
Two weeks from today, Dave Hunchak begins his tenure as head coach of the Kamloops Blazers as players begin registering for training camp.
And about all that’s left to do in preparation is to introduce a new assistant coach.
“There will be an announcement in the very near future,” Hunchak said on Wednesday. “Once we figured out who we wanted, there were some logistics that we had to work through. I think we’ve worked through them and there should be an announcement shortly.”
Hunchak, who had been the Blazers’ associate coach, was named head coach on May 15. He takes over from Guy Charron, who remains with the club as an advisor to hockey operations.
Hunchak isn’t a freshman head coach in the WHL. He had been in that position for four seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors before joining the Blazers.
With two weeks to go before camp opens, Hunchak confirmed that Taran Kozun, 19, is the team’s No. 1 goaltender.
That has been the case since the Blazers dealt Cole Cheveldave, the starter for the last two seasons, to the Prince Albert Raiders on July 10.
Kozun, from Nipawn, Sask., has gotten into just 22 WHL games over the last two seasons, 20 of them last season when he went 11-4-3, 2.36, .914.
“Certainly, to start things off, it’s Taran’s position and he needs to become a starting goaltender,” Hunchak said. “I’ve talked to Taran several times since the trade happened. He’s aware of where things are at.”
Hunchak said that all involved are going to have to find out whether the 6-foot-0, 170-pound Kozun is capable of shouldering the load.
“Let’s be honest,” Hunchak stated. “Taran hasn’t been a starter since midget AAA and that’s three years ago. Can he handle the mental stresses of doing it every day?”
Hunchak also promised that “Taran is going to be pushed.”
The coach then rattled off the names of Liam McLeod, a 17-year-old from Kamloops; Cole Kehler, who won’t turn 16 until Dec. 17; Cameron Pateman, 17, of Regina; and Ryan Ternes, a 16-year-old from Calgary.
McLeod was a ninth-round pick in the 2011 bantam draft who got into 14 games last season with the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings. Kehler, from Altona, Man., was taken in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. Pateman and Ternes are list players.
According to Hunchak, Ternes “had a really good second-half last season in Calgary” where he played for a minor midget AAA team.
“The battle for the backup job is going to be really interesting,” Hunchak said. “We’ve got some quality young guys coming in.”
In listening to Hunchak it sounds as though the backup will see some quality playing time, too. Only once, when he was running the Warriors in 2010-11, has Hunchak ridden one horse. Thomas Heemskerk, a 20-year-old, went 36-21-6 in 65 games that season.
“It was based on him being that solid that season,” Hunchak said. “But if you’re going to keep a young goaltender, he has to play. Him just sitting there doesn’t make any sense.”
Once the coaching staff settles on its goaltenders, Hunchak said, the split will be dictated by “how they’re playing.”
Other than that one season, he said, “I’ve never been one to say, ‘OK, you’re the guy. Run with it.’ ”
It seems that the organization might be looking at Kehler, who played high school hockey last season, as the goaltender of the future.
“A guy like Kehler, who is a top-notch goaltender,” Hunchak said, “if we are only going to be able to get him into ‘x’ amount of games . . . it doesn’t make any sense for us to keep him.
“But, again, if he stands on his head and beats the others out, then we’ve got a decision to make.”

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