Monday, October 21, 2013

Blazers working to get back on track

Daily News Sports Reporter
There weren’t any Barcaloungers at Kamloops Blazers practice Monday, and the players weren’t passing around beach balls.
For some, six days off might seem like a vacation; for the Blazers, it’s a chance to get their WHL season back on track.
The Blazers are hard at work practising ahead of their Saturday home date against the Everett Silvertips. That game will come exactly one week after the Blazers lost 1-0 in Everett.
Kamloops, at 4-9-0, has the third-worst record in the 22-team league. The Blazers are giving up an average of 36 shots against per game and have lost six of eight games.
This time away from games — it’s tough to call it a break, really, considering the work the players are putting in — has come at a good time for the Blazers.
“We really need to have a good week of practice,” said 20-year-old forward Tyson Ness. “We have to change a lot to get to where we should be, and it’s got to be a big week for us.”
Aside from the nine days the Blazers will get at Christmas, this is their longest stretch between games this season. With 59 games remaining in the regular season, there’s a long way to go, but also a lot of work to do.
There are some issues that can’t be fixed in practice, like discipline, which the Blazers have lacked all season. Kamloops has given its opposition 79 power plays, more than any other team, and, although the penalty kill is fifth in the league at 82 per cent, it takes its toll over time.
Something that can be worked on in practice is offensive production.
“The one thing that we have to do a better job of is . . . I wouldn’t say dumbing down our game, but finding simpler ways to get pucks to the net and converging and getting second and third chances,” said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak.
Hunchak knew from the start that the Blazers would have a lot to learn this season. He and associate coach Mark Ferner have worked hard teaching the players, and skills coach Mike Needham and advisor to hockey operations Guy Charron — the Blazers’ former head coach — have pitched in as well.
But the Blazers continue to be a work in progress.
“We’re a victim of the way we’ve played the last couple of years maybe,” Hunchak said. “We’ve had the skill to do certain things in the past and those younger guys coming up are thinking they can do the same things.”
Kamloops will play its next five games — and 10 of its next 11 — at Interior Savings Centre, where it is 3-3-0.
The Blazers have won their past two home games, beating the Lethbridge Hurricanes 7-1 on Oct. 14 and the Seattle Thunderbirds 3-1 on Wednesday. Kamloops also had a solid effort despite the loss in Everett on Saturday, following a dud the game before, a 5-1 loss to the Giants in Vancouver on Friday.
 “Friday, we didn’t get the effort . . . we didn’t play hard at all,” Hunchak said. “Saturday we played hard, we were in the game, and we probably deserved a better fate. Having said that, we didn’t get a better fate.
“We aren’t going to deviate from our plan — our focus is to get better every day with the little things.”
Blazers trainer Colin Robinson has done a nice job keeping the players healthy — although luck does play a part — as Kamloops has only lost two man games to injury this season.
Jordan Thomson (upper body) sat out practice Monday, with Hunchak saying, “It’s an issue that we have to be very cautious with — we want to make sure everything is looked after properly. He should be back on the ice by Wednesday, hopefully.”
The rest of the players are using this time to heal their aches and pains.
“Everyone has bruises on them, and we’ve all been in today to get them iced and everything,” Ness said. “Hopefully we’ll all be 100 per cent by the weekend.”
JUST NOTES: D Ryan Rehill, who was ejected from Saturday’s game for an interference major, won’t be suspended by the WHL. Rehill missed practice Monday for what Hunchak called a maintenance day. . . . Saturday’s game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. . . . The Giants will be in town Sunday, 6 p.m., at ISC.


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