Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In the System: August training camp features talented group

(Jake Kryski (left) and Deven Sideroff (right) headline a talented group of prospects for next season)

Yes August is.... a long ways away. Given the Blazer season, many are looking forward to what lies ahead for this club.

Besides the 3rd overall pick in the WHL bantam draft May 1st in Calgary, the Blazers feature many top prospects who will push for a full-time spot on next year's club.  This training camp will most definitely be the most competitive in some doubt the most competitive I've seen in my time here.

Keep in mind, I haven't seen most of these players since training camp, or not at all. I'm going off  information from others to compile this list. Some of it is also opinion. None of the info is from Blazer scouts or management.

Here's a list broken down by age, of some of the players to watch who will push for a spot next season:

1997's (17 year-olds next season)

F - Deven Sideroff - after being called up for games in each of the last two seasons, Sideroff should be ready for a full-time spot next fall. As a call-up from OHA, he collected 2-4-6 in 12 games. A speedster and very dynamic. He looked like a full-time player this season. Like most coming in, he'll need to work on his strength this summer. Was very impressive in his short time here.

F - Spencer Bast - after being listed after the 2012 WHL bantam draft, Bast recently signed on with the Blazers.  This after finishing 2nd in scoring in the Sask "AAA" midget league with the Battlefords Stars. Putting up 68pts, in 44 games, I've heard him described as a hard-working, heart and soul guy with some skill.

F - Tyler Jeanson - Originally drafted in the 9th round of 2012, Jeanson had pretty good numbers with Junior "A" Portage in the MJHL.  He scored 21 goals and added 19 assists for 40pts in 59 games, finishing 2nd in team scoring...pretty good in his rookie season. He's listed at 5'8", 155lbs.  He is not signed.

F - Angus Scott - Listed after being dropped by the Regina Pats who originally drafted him in the 8th round.  The Salt Lake City, Utah native would be considered a long shot to be a Blazer, as the WHL may not be in his plans.  He's drafted by the USHL's Lincoln Stars.  He played with the Sask "AAA" midget Notre Dame Hounds this past season where he finished 5th in league scoring with 21-43-64 in 44 games.

D- Cam Reagan - like Sideroff, Reagan impressed as a call-up from Sherwood Park "AAA" appearing in 11 games with the Blazers. In limited action, he was -4 with one assist.  Reagan impressed me with his size and attitude. He looks like he'll only get bigger with a pretty strong frame already.  The experience this season will bode well coming into camp as he looks for a regular spot as a potential 6th or 7th defenseman.

D - Travis Verveda - signed out of training camp this past fall, Verveda plays with the talented Red Deer Chiefs of the Alberta "AAA" midget league.  Good sized d-man, I'm told he moves the puck well. He has three goals in seven playoff games. His team will play in the league final vs Lloydminster beginning this weekend. Like Reagan, he'll push for a 6th or 7th spot on defense.

D - Jarold Hilderman - an unsigned listed player who is playing with the BCHL's Penticton Vees.  I've gathered the Blazers are high on the good sized 6'1" 195 lbs defenseman originally from Kamsack, SK. A defensive d-man, who was 1-7-8 in 45 regular season games.  He's also committed to Minnesota-Duluth Div 1 for the 2016-17 season.

G - Cole Kehler - I've included Kehler on this list as he was an "affiliated player" despite spending a lot of time up with the Blazers this season. A 6th round bantam pick, Kehler split the season with the Blazers and the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy. From Altona, MB, Kehler appeared in 11 games this season, picking up his first ever WHL win in a 3-2 SO win in Seattle late February. No doubt he has the inside track for a spot based on his experience this past season.  A big, lanky goaltender who also moves pretty well. Very mentally strong, and confident in his abilities. If he progresses, he can be a #1 guy.

G - Connor Ingram - Originally a free-agent invite to training camp, he impressed enough to be listed out of camp.  Had great numbers with the Sask "AAA" midget Prince Albert Mintos in his rookie season. From Imperial, SK (home of the Sabres) , he went 16-4-3 in 23 games in the regular season with a league leading 1.98 GAA and a .928 save percentage - also tops in the SMAAAHL.

Overall, an impressive group which will really push some of the returning Blazers in the fall. I like the depth in all three positions. A lot of these players are having both team and individual success which will bode well moving forward.

1998's (16 year-olds next season)

F - Jake Kryski - originally a 1st round pick (13th overall) of the Prince Albert Raiders who was acquired in the Cole Cheveldave deal. Appeared in four games with the Blazers as an under-age this season collecting two assists.  Was impressive in all four games, showing great hockey sense, and the ability to make plays at high speeds.  Top-end talent. Put up 16-32-48 with the Okanagan Rockets, 18th in BC Major Midget scoring. He's T-7th in playoff scoring 5-4-9 in five games. His team is in the league final vs the Vancouver NW Giants. A blue-chip prospect.

F - Quinn Benjafield - The Blazers 1st round pick (19th overall) in 2013,  played one game with the Blazers this season, in his hometown of Vancouver January 29th. There's high hopes for him as he looks to earn a full time spot with the Blazers in the fall.  Battling some injuries in the playoffs with the Vancouver NW Giants, Benjafield had a good regular season finishing T-19th in scoring 19-28-47 in 37 games. Was bigger in January compared to training camp, listed at 6'1" 165 lbs.

F - Garrett Pilon - An un-signed 7th round pick in 2013, Pilon had a decent offensive season with the Sask "AAA" Midget Saskatoon Contacts.  10-19-29 in 43 games. Plays a hard-working gritty game. His dad Rich played in the NHL, and he's the cousin of Brandon WK's defenseman Ryan Pilon.

F - Jermaine Loewen - Perhaps the best story at training camp last fall. The Jamaican born player from rural Manitoba picked up hockey later than others, and has been making great strides.  Loewen signed with the Blazers after being selected in the 3rd round (48th overall) in 2013.  After putting up 55pts in Bantam "AAA" with Interlake, he went 14-14-28 in 40 games this season in Manitoba "AAA" Midget with Interlake. Listed last year at 6'2", 182lbs, it will be interesting to see if he's gotten any bigger this fall. He will have to come in with a mindset that he belongs, rather than one of "just happy to have made it this far". He was around the team in December in Brandon and was a pleasure to have on board. He practiced with the club and even took warm-up vs the Wheat Kings before being the final scratch.

F - Phillip Knies - The Blazers selected the Peoria, Arizona forward in the 4th round (85th overall). From the Arizona Bobcats, Knies suffered an injury before camp last fall and was unable to attend.  The Blazers would like to get him to camp and get a better look.  I've heard him described as a "Brendan Ranford clone" - which is a pretty nice compliment.  The Blazer staff have also been down south to see him this season. His teammate Blake Bargar just signed with the MJ Warriors.

D - James Miller - Selected in the 6th round (129th overall). Miller is the younger brother of former Brandon WK Ryley Miller. From Sherwood Park, AB, Miller plays the game with an edge...and sometimes over the edge. He's an intriguing guy, who adds some jam. Played Minor Midget out of Spruce Grove 11-18-29 with 68 PIMS in 34 games.

D - Dawson Davidson - I've heard good things from the signed offensive d-man who played this season with the Moose Jaw Generals of the Sask "AAA" midget league.  A 3rd round pick (58th) overall, from what I can tell, lead all defensemen in league scoring this season 5-34-39 in 42 games. Pretty impressive for a 15 year old. His biggest challenge will be adding some size. Listed at 5'9", 145lbs heading into this past season.

G - Dylan Ferguson - an 8th round pick (166th overall) in 2013, the Vancouver Island native had a strong regular season with the Sask "AAA" midget Notre Dame Argos. He went 18-4 in 24 appearances in the regular season with a 2.62 GAA and a .896 save %. He's also 2-0 in the playoffs stopping 52 of 54 shots combined as the Argos are into the SMAAAHL semi-finals.

Overall, perhaps even a stronger group than the talented 1997's. The question is, how many 16 year-olds will the Blazers want to go with next season.  This year, only Nick Chyzowski was a full-time 16 year-old. Deven Sideroff and Cole Kehler fit in nicely as "AP's"

It is only a few days after the season, and this list is bound to change before camp opens in August. I hope it provides our fans with a little knowledge of some potential roster players for next year. 


Monday, April 30, 2012

Blazers GM Craig Bonner talks bantam draft

The Kamloops Blazers will pick 19th overall in the opening round of the WHL Bantam Draft Thursday in Calgary.  I spoke with GM Craig Bonner on the team's philosophy with their 1st pick:

Here's GM Bonner's take on the potential of trading for a 2nd or 3rd rounder leading up to the draft.

On the strength of the draft crop this year:

On picking Western Canadian players:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Year end audio with Schaber, Madaisky, Bozon, Mashmeyer, Ranford, Lanigan

I went down to the rink today and looked back, and ahead with some of the guys following the end of the season. I also posted some audio after game seven from Portland. At the very bottom is the game six 3rd period comeback audio from Radio NL.

You can listen to all the interviews here

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Schaber Done for Season


News Release:

 The Blazers will be without the services of team captain Chase Schaber for the remainder of the playoff season. Schaber suffered a long-term leg injury during game three in Victoria of a best-of-seven WHL Western Conference quarter-final series. Schaber finished the series with 2 goals and 2 assists in the first two games of the series.

The 20-year-old forward was acquired by the Blazers in January 2010 from the Calgary Hitmen. In two and a half seasons with the Blazers, he played in 135 games and totalled 49 goals, 60 assists for a total of 109 total points. In 277 WHL games, Schaber finishes his WHL career with 68 goals, 102 assists and 170 points.

A few career highlights with the Blazers included Schaber being selected to play in the 2010 Subway Super Series game in Kamloops. He was also named the Blazers co-MVP during the 2010-11 season, as well as the recipient of the Dean Evason Award for Inspirational Leadership this past season.

The Red Deer native has been the team captain the past two seasons. His leadership, character, passion and skill are undeniable. He will be missed as the Blazers continue into the second round of the WHL playoffs.

Monday, February 13, 2012

40 WIns and Closing in on BC Division Title

At times, it's hard to imagine how things could be better with this club right now...of course no one wants to say it...the hockey gods are always listening, and fortunes can turn in an instant. 

The Blazers became the first team in the WHL to reach 40 wins. It came in Kelowna with a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Rockets to sweep the weekend home-and-home set.  The win summed up how the Blazers have won games this season: they simply found a way.  Many times last season they lost a game like that.  It seems when the game is on the line, the Blazers are playing their best hockey.

Blazers Head Coach Guy Charron talked about hitting the 40 win mark in our post-game show following Saturday's 3-2 win in Kelowna.

Aside from the odd grin or smile, the Blazer coaching staff and management haven't done much to acknowledge their success this season.  They aren't basking in the turnaround or marvelling in the team's success.  The attitude has been one day at a time, one game at a time...and the players have bought in.

The players are somewhat subdued after victories this season, a quiet confidence.  It's an expectation with this group.  It's been the people outside the organization, fans, and the media that have gone to the well a few times with a "can you believe this?" but you won't really sense that tone within the walls of the dressing room, on the bus, or while sitting down at nice restaurant for the post-game meal.

This season has been compared a lot to the 98/99 campaign - the last time the Blazers had this type of regular season success.  It took that team guided by Mark Habscheid until February 20th to pick up win #40.  However, those were the days when ties actually existed and that team kissed their sister a lot that year.  They had 11 draws at that point and went to have 13 ties in a 48-11-13 season.

That year the Blazers swept through the Western Conference playoffs before running into Pavel Brendl, Brad Moran of the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL Championship. 

In order to have a season like this you need to be a good team, but you need some surprises and some good luck along the way.  The Blazers have had their fair share. Here's a few examples:

- Who would've thought F Tim Bozon would come in and have the rookie season he's having? He's tied for the lead in rookie scoring with 27 goals, 29 assists for 56 points.  He's playing like a veteran and is easily the Blazers most dangerous and impacting import since Juuso Puustinen in the 2006/07 rookie season.

- G Cole Cheveldave has been another welcomed surprise.  Late last season, he was this goalie in Drumheller who "could come in next year and make this team...maybe push for the starting job".  I think he's exceeded expectations to the point where he's getting WHL rookie of the year consideration along with Bozon.  It would be back-to-back rookie of the year honours after he won that award in the AJHL last season.  His 35 save performance in Kelowna Saturday night was another game adding to his impressive rookie season resume.

- JC Lipon.  A little confidence goes a long way.  After scoring three goals and adding 18 assists last season as a 17 year-old, Lipon has been thrusted into the spotlight on one of the most dominating lines in the Western Conference this year along with Tim Bozon and centerman Colin Smith.  Lipon's 52 points and knack for timely goals has him as a key contributor to this year's club.  It was nice to see him get a little bit of respect for most improved player in Annie Fowler's annual "Best of the West" poll.

- Injury/Suspension free.  Other than F Jordan DePape's four month departure for shoulder surgery, the Blazers have been a relatively healthy bunch this season (knock on wood).  They haven't really seen that rash of injuries that has them playing under the minimum or forced into tough situations.  It could still happen, but the depth of the team has been able to cover so far this season.  The Blazers were also the most suspended team last season.  A lone suspension to Josh Caron before he was traded to Everett is the only one on the WHL books this season.

There's other players who have found their game this season, and have made that natural progression with another year's experience.  Guys like Tyler Hansen, Bronson Maschmeyer, Marek Hrbas and Landon Cross on the back-end.  Up front Colin Smith has had a coming of age and rookies Cole Ully and Aspen Sterzer have found ways to contribute. 

It really has all the ingredients of a championship team...except without the battle hardened playoff experience.  This group doesn't have that.  They don't have players who have been through that grind.  Captain Chase Schaber leads the way with 30 playoff games - 26 of them with the Calgary Hitmen where he played a much lesser role as a first and second year player.  In those 30 playoff games, he's never scored a goal. 

We'll see how the last chapter of the regular season unfolds with 16 games to play.  I like where the Blazers have been, where they are and where they're headed, but the road is long and unpredictable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blazers Take Streak into Kelowna

Riding a season high nine-game winning streak - the  longest since the 1998-99 season, the Blazers head into Kelowna tomorrow night looking to keep things going. Here's a few notes as the division rivals get set to battle.

- It's the first meeting between the teams since late October.  The Blazers have won all three contests this season and will get very familiar with the Rockets with still five head-to-head games on the schedule.  The Blazers are 16-2-0-1 against BC division teams and haven't lost to Kelowna, Victoria or Vancouver in regulation time this season. 

- Kelowna should be energized after a come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win Saturday over the Vancouver Giants.   The win did the Blazers a favor that night.  The Blazers take a 12 point lead a top the BC Division with a game in-hand.

- Chase hot right now.  Pardon the "Zoolander" reference but the Blazer captain has scored six goals added four assists and is a +7 in his last five games.

- Tomorrow's game is a Shaw TV game from Prospera Place.  Dan Russell, Bill Wilms and Kirk Fraser are scheduled to call the action.

- Where do the Blazers find themselves in the CHL Top 10 Rankings this week?  Ranked 4th last week, many believe the Blazers will jump two spots to #2.  The OHL's London Knights have the best win percentage in the CHL and will likely take over the #1 spot from the Tri-City Americans.

-Former Blazer turned owner Mark Recchi was one of the guests of honour at the White House yesterday in Washington DC with his Bruins teammates.
Recchi on white house (news 2) by keen941

- The Blazers were on hand for the BMO Bank of Montreal Ultimate Fan Contest.  Below, Brandon Herrod, Chase Schaber and Brendan Ranford sign autographs.

Robert didn't win the Ultimate Fan but was one of three finalists.  

Congratulations to Angela who won the award.  She dressed up with her mom as a "two-headed" Blazer fan. Very unique!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

WHL Trade Deadline

The place to be is twitter today for WHL trade talk.  I'll update the blog if the Blazers make a move at some point.  Follow today's discussion @JonKeenNLSports.