By MARK HUNTER
Daily News Sports ReporterHaving avoided the bug for much of the WHL season, the Kamloops Blazers find themselves dealing with a few injuries.
Forward Aspen Sterzer, who sat out Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Rockets in Kelowna, missed practice Monday and Tuesday with what the team is calling a “lower body” injury. He was on the sidelines alongside goaltender Bolton Pouliot, who injured his right hand in practice last week and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
Pouliot definitely won’t be suiting up this weekend when the Blazers take on the Kootenay Ice on Friday and the Everett Silvertips on Saturday, both at Interior Savings Centre. Sterzer’s status is up in the air.
“It’s day to day. We’ll see where he’s at,” Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak said after practice Tuesday. “It’s hard to say at this point. (Athletic trainer Colin Robinson) makes the decision as to who can go and who can’t, and he decided that Aspen needed the extra day (Tuesday).”
Cole Ully, who leads the Blazers with 28 points in 26 games, wore a yellow “no contact” jersey at Tuesday’s practice, but Hunchak said it was “precautionary” and Ully should be fine for the weekend.
The Blazers have played 28 games this season, nearly half of the regular season, but really haven’t had to deal with many injuries. Heading into last weekend, Kamloops had only lost four man-games due to injury, all in one-game stretches.
But things have become more challenging lately, with Jordan Thomson leaving the team for personal reasons last month, tightening the Blazers’ defensive ranks to six, and Sterzer and Pouliot missing games on the weekend.
“I think (Robinson) has done a tremendous job with keeping our guys healthy,” Hunchak said. “There’s no question we’ve had our bumps and bruises, but he’s done a great job of keeping the guys going. To the guys’ credit, they’ve worked through some things.
“To have a full lineup for the most part has been a luxury.”
Sterzer, 19, is having a career season, with 20 points, 12 of them goals, through 27 games. He also is plus-2, the second best rating on the Blazers.
The Blazers have two extra forwards, so there are warm bodies to replace Sterzer, if he remains out of the lineup. The Blazers don’t have such a luxury with goalies, so they called in Cole Kehler of Altona, Man., to replace Pouliot.
Kehler, who turns 16 on Dec. 17, is to remain with the team until Pouliot’s return — expected after Christmas — before heading back to Penticton’s Okanagan Hockey Academy.
Taran Kozun has been excellent in two starts since Pouliot’s injury, despite the losses. Even then, Hunchak said after Friday’s 3-2 home loss that Kehler wouldn’t be around simply as a backup, and that he could expect to earn some playing time. That might happen as soon as the weekend.
“We’ll look at that closer to the weekend,” Hunchak said Tuesday. “There’s the potential for (a start) and we want him to be ready at all times.”
JUST NOTES: Friday’s and Saturday’s games are scheduled for 7 p.m. . . . Saturday’s game will be the annual teddy bear toss. . . . Kamloops has lost 10 straight games and now is 6-18-4 and last in the Western Conference. . . . Kootenay (15-12-2) lost 3-0 to the host Victoria Royals last night and now is sixth in the Eastern Conference. . . . The Silvertips lost 6-3 to the visiting Portland Winterhawks last night. Everett (20-5-4) fell to second in the Western Conference.
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