Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blazers Acquire Brandon Herrod from Prince Albert

I spoke with Blazer GM Craig Bonner this morning on today's deal:

Bones by keen941

Monday, December 26, 2011

1st rounder Thomson to make Blazer Debut

News Release:

The Kamloops Blazers will have 15-year-old Jordan Thomson in their line up following the Christmas break. Thomson is expected to make his Blazers debut in Vancouver on December 27th and will stay with the Blazers until January 2nd

Thomson was selected by the Blazers 4th overall in this past years WHL Bantam Draft. This year, Thomson has 3 goals and 12 assists in 20 games with the Southwest Cougars of the Manitoba Midget AAA League. Thomson has helped the Cougars to a 24-3-2 record so far this season. Thomson will wear #5 during his Blazers debut.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mid-Season Report Card

As mentioned a couple weeks a mid-season update on the August 25th post Entitled "10 Things the Blazers Must Overcome" to have a strong season.

I'll keep in italics what was said in the August post as a reference...

Let's run down the list.....

1. Discipline:

Yes it might as well be the number one issue. Last year's team showed at times a complete lack of it. Leading the league in PIMS for a good chunk of the season, the Blazers finished with the 4th most in the WHL with 1500 as a team. Key players were also suspended for parts of the season including Chase Schaber, Brendan Ranford, and Jordan DePape. Players served a total of 22 games in suspensions and quite frankly the team was in no position to get a break from the officiating for most of the season. I know discipline will be stressed throughout camp by the coaching staff and will be a focal point of this team moving forward.

Mid-season:  A vast improvement. The Blazers have taken the least amount of penalties in the BC Division through the half-way point.  They've taken the third fewest PIMS in the Western Conference.  It's been a focal point of this team since camp opened.  The message from the coaching staff, and policing of the group from the players themselves has been the reason for the turnaround.  I think the fact the Blazers have been in most games has also added to the better numbers.  Really, through the first half, I can't think of too many bad, selfish, penalties. There was a few on the eastern swing to close off the first half, but that's about it. Suspensions are also way down with this group.  Josh Caron's three-gamer for a check to the head right before he was traded to Everett is the only one on record. 

2. Coaching Dynamic

The Blazers have not one, but two WHL head coaches on the bench this season. That is a good thing in my opinion but it poses some potential logistical problems. With the addition of Dave Hunchak as the team's Associate Coach, the Blazers will have to find a dynamic that works. Who controls what, who says what, and who puts their foot down. So far it's going well between Guy Charron and Dave Hunchak. I'm sure the two will be communicating their thoughts openly to get the best out of the scenario. Let's keep in mind, Guy felt Hunchak was the right guy for the job.

Mid-season: It's proving to be a great set-up for Guy Charron and Dave Hunchak.  Guy has allowed Hunchak to implement his beliefs, trusting on him with his experience in the WHL as both a head and assistant coach.  There isn't any reminisce of a power-struggle between the two either - they just aren't the type.  It's my belief that both feel they are putting a stamp on this year's team.  What a luxury to have two WHL Head Coaches on the bench.  Charron runs the forwards, Hunchak the back-end and there's no doubt it is where they are most comfortable.

3. Penalty Kill

This has been a point of contention for this hockey club and is exposed more by the lack of discipline discussed above. Last year's PK had a decent 2nd half of the season but still only killed off powerplays at 76.4% - 20th out of 22 teams. Two seasons ago the PK was at 75.3% - again 20th out of 22 teams. A year before that, 76.9%. You have to go back to the 06/07 season to find the last time the PK was over 80% and even that year it was only 80.2%.

Mid-season: The penalty-kill has seen considerable improvement so far...more so on a consistency basis.  It took a dip during the eastern road swing to finish the first half at 79.8% - 11th out of the 22 teams.  That's the lowest it's been pretty much all season though.  The PK has been hasn't been lights out by any means.  The one thing the Blazers have added this season is a shorthanded goal threat.  Leading the WHL with 12 SH goals at the break, the Blazers scored only four shorthanded markers all of last season.  The shorthanded prowess is simply a by-product of increased team confidence.

4. Defense

The Blazers gave up the most goals in the Western Conference last season with 285 - 3rd most in the league ahead of only fellow non-playoff teams Regina and Lethbridge. Granted, the Blazer blueline is older this season, they still have to go out and prove themselves. Just because everyone is a year older, improvement doesn't just magically happen.

With six returning veterans in Austin Madaisky, Bronson Maschmeyer, Tyler Hansen, Josh Caron, Brady Gaudet and newly acquired Marek Hrbas, it'll be up to all of them to take the next step. Madaisky, Caron and Maschmeyer will have to specifically lead the back-end but it'll be strength in numbers if the Blazers want to be a winner.

Dave Hunchak has a proven track record of developing defenseman as a coach. We will see if he can continue the trend with the Blazers.

Mid-season: The team's defensive game has jumped by leaps and bounds this season.   The added experience and confidence from the core defenseman has made the Blazer blueline as good as any in the WHL.  I think both Tyler Hansen and Bronson Maschmeyer's games have seen the biggest improvement.  Again, a confidence thing.  Marek Hrbas and Tyler Bell have been excellent.   Austin Madaisky shows at times he can be that hard, number one guy the team needs.  Landon Cross when given the opportunity has excelled as well.  Brady Gaudet will need to keep pushing to get into games. 

I think the Blazers will look to add another defenseman at the deadline to compliment the group - especially after moving 20 year-old Josh Caron to Everett.  They are missing that pure powerplay QB on the back-end.  They're tough to find anyways.  F Chase Schaber showed some promise when moved to the point on the PP before getting hurt in Regina during the eastern swing. 

5. Fragile mindset

The Blazers lost a handful of games last season and gave up precious points because of late goals against in tie games. Too many times the Blazers gave up that heartbreaking last minute goal. It was a "playing not to lose" mentality and not an assertive attitude that was their demise. There's nothing worse than giving up that late goal. It adds doubt and can snowball in a hurry. The Blazers need to dictate the pace and flow in those situations and not sit back and react. It won't happen overnight, but every situation they overcome this season will build momentum in their favor.

Mid-season: This has been a work in progress since day one.  The Blazers haven't really had an incident to shake their confidence this year.  They've been good in close games, they've shown they can play with the lead and they've shown they can play from behind as well.  A fragile mindset can snowball... it's the "here we go again" syndrome.  Fortunately, it can snowball in the right direction as well.  That is seemingly what's happening with this group through 35 games.  The Blazers are playing to win, rather than playing "not to lose" like they did most of last season. 

6. Goaltending

The Blazers need to get quality goaltending all season long. They likely haven't had a legit game-stealing all-star goaltender since Devan Dubnyk in the 05/06 season. With the departure of Jeff Bosch, the Blazers will host an audition for the number one spot. Cam Lanigan and Cole Cheveldave are expected to battle it out in camp with Taran Kozun and Troy Trombley trying to push into a back-up role. As the saying only go as far as your goaltending.

Mid-season: Hello Cole Cheveldave.  He's nearly cemented himself as the number one 'tender.  He's gotten the start in the last eight games and 15 of the last 16.  Sounds like a #1 guy doesn't it?  His numbers are good too.  16-4-1-1 with a 2.74 GAA and .907 save %.  Last year's AJHL rookie of the year has certainly stepped up.  The coaching staff loves his compete level.  

Cam Lanigan has been good, but has struggled in his last two outings.  He won his last start but has been shaky in a pair of relief performances coming into the game cold in the 2nd period.  The Blazers will need Lanigan in the 2nd half if they want to hold onto their BC Division lead.  He will be called upon again there's no question. He'll have more opportunities.

7. Getting everyone on board

Last season I think there were times when not everyone was on the same page. Perhaps some players were more or less motivated than others and the coaching staff said as much in our post-game shows. It's cliche but the Blazers will need everyone "pulling on the rope in the same direction" this season if they want to have the year they hope to have.

The leadership group has done an excellent job so far this season.  This is a tight team.  They are a "team".  You could look at the guys who wear letters as a big reason but it's unsung guys like Ryan Hanes that are the glue of this team.  The rookies are popular with the veterans and there's great camaraderie amongst the group.  From my perspective, they're all on board for the common goal. 

8. Better play within the BC Division

The Blazers lost every single head-to-head series in the BC division last season. A combined record of 10-19-1-2. Division games are always big ones...the Blazers gave up too many points to their division rivals leading to a last place finish in the BC division.

Mid-season: This perhaps has been the biggest turnaround year-over-year.  The Blazers are 12-2-0-0 against BC Division teams mid-season.  That's two more divisional wins than all of last year.  In fact, the Blazers are 9-0 combined against Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.  Only PG has handed them a loss within the division.  The Blazers are 3-2 vs PG.

9. Being more resilient

The Blazers will have to show a bit more of it this season. Whether it's overcoming a bad call, bad goal or injury problems, this team will need to be able to handle adversity better. At times emotions get the best of this team and usually it had a negative effect. The Blazers will have to battle through it this season because adversity will come up several times over the course of a 72 game schedule.

Mid-season: The Blazers haven't had a ton of adversity this season.  Perhaps the only adversity has been the eastern-swing and the back-to-back losses to Regina and Prince Albert where both Chase Schaber and Matt Needham went down...two of the top three centermen.  What did the Blazers do? They responded with wins in Brandon (first since 1998) and Saskatoon.  They then went on to dominate Moose Jaw before losing 4-3 in a shootout to close off the first half.  So far, they've answered the bell...but more adversity is coming. It's simply inevitable.

10. Exorcising the playoff demons

The truth of the matter is this: No matter how good or bad of a regular season the Blazers have, their year will be judged on playoff success or lack thereof. The Blazers haven't won a playoff round since 1999 - the last time they went to the WHL Championship. Since then, they've amassed a 5-40 record in the playoffs with 10 straight series losses. It is the biggest issue dogging the Blazers and will be until this team gets through a round or two and takes a run at an Ed Chynoweth Cup.

See above.

The prognosis is good for the club moving forward.  With a move or two expected at the deadline to strengthen the group, and the potential early March return of F Jordan DePape from shoulder surgery, the Blazers only stand to get better.  They will have to be better too...because teams like Kelowna, Portland, Vancouver, Tri-City and Spokane only stand to improve as well. 


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blazers Extend Contract of Guy Charron

Blazer News Release:

The Kamloops Blazers announced Tuesday that the hockey club has extended the contract of Head Coach, Guy Charron through the 2012-13 hockey season.

Charron joined the Blazers as the team’s Head Coach on November 23, 2009. During that time, Charron has guided the Blazers to a 72-64-4-3 record. This season, under Charron’s guidance, the Blazers have compiled a 22-8-1-0 record which is good for first place in the B.C. Division and second overall in the WHL.

“Guy and his coaching staff have done a terrific job with the hockey club this season,” General Manager, Craig Bonner commented. “As a group, we have been well prepared for games this season. We have seen major strides in the development of our players and the team structure. Our current record is an indication of the tremendous job that Guy and the coaching staff have done thus far.”


Monday, December 05, 2011

All the right stuff...

Right now... the Blazers have it.

They're finding ways to win games when sometimes they're not the better team.  It's six in a row now and the Blazers haven't played great in any of the six...yet good enough to win.  With wins over Victoria (4-1), Seattle (8-2), Victoria (4-3), Victoria (6-5OT), PG (5-4), Victoria (4-2), the Blazers have ran their record to 20-7-1 and the 2nd best win percentage in the WHL at .732. 

There's was a lot of talk this weekend the Blazers wouldn't have won the two weekend games last year.  That team was finding ways to lose. 

The Blazers wrap up the home schedule of the first half Wednesday against the Everett Silvertips.  It's the return of former Blazers JT Barnett and Josh Caron, who were both dealt to the 'Tips for future draft picks.

Here's some news and notes from the weekend:

- I ran into Prince Albert GM Bruno Campese at the mall in Kamloops a few hours before the Blazers hosted Victoria Saturday night.  He took in the game but did so under a low profile.

- What happened with Charles Inglis and the Cougars following the game at ISC Friday night?  He was involved in an altercation with Chase Schaber at the end of the game. Did something carry over from that?  Something transpired post-game which had the Cougars sending Inglis home to await a trade. 

- The Blazers four wins this weekend should be enough to get them back into the CHL Top 10...take it for what it is though.  With the completion of Sunday's games, the Blazers have a better winning percentage/record than six of the 10 teams named in the Top Ten last week.

- I thought it was a good weekend for two rookie defenseman who saw more ice-time because of the Josh Caron trade and an injury to Brady Gaudet.

- Gaudet may play Wednesday. If not he'll be ready for the start of the East division road swing beginning Saturday in Swift Current.

- F Ryan Hanes 4th goal of the season turned out to be the game-winner Saturday night against Victoria.  Of all the guys out there, he's an easy one to root for.  Linemate Chase Souto had scored in two games in a row prior to Saturday and was looking to keep it going...."two's a fluke, three is a streak," he said in our pre-game show.  Any offense from the Blazers 4th line is a welcomed bonus.

- F Tim Bozon's goal celebrations have his teammates taking notice.  Bozon admitted he has been egged on a little by the guys which led for his "calling out to the fans to throw the bears" Friday night after he scored the Teddy Bear toss goal vs the Cougars.

- Remember this blog post back in August on the Ten Things the Blazers must overcome to have a successful season?  I'll be doing a follow-up  near mid-season report card post in the coming days.

- The Blazers six game winning streak is the longest since the 06/07 season.  That year they had two eight-game winning streaks near mid-season.

- Every team goes through adversity and a tough stretch during a season. My experience is that it's inevitable.  The Blazers haven't really had any substantial problems are stretches of poor play.  It's going to happen though.  When it does, let's hope it's short and they bounce back strong.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Blazers, Cougars & Teddy Bears

The Blazers return to home-ice tonight to host the Prince George Cougars in the annual Teddy Bear Toss Night at ISC... Here's some game notes and tidbits heading in.

- The Blazers will look to keep a four-game winning streak going while the Cougars are coming off back-to-back road wins through Seattle and Spokane. 

- The Blazers are 10-2 vs BC division opponents.  That equals the same amount of wins they picked up against the division in all of last year.  The Blazers only two losses have been against Prince George.  The season series is even at two wins apiece.  Tonight is game five of the 10 they will play head-to-head this year.

- Cam Lanigan is set to get the start in goal.  He hasn't started a game since November 12th against the Edmonton Oil Kings.  Cole Cheveldave has started the last seven games. 

- The Blazers will present captain Chase Schaber as the Radio NL Player of the Month for November.  Schaber scored eight goals including two game-winners and added three assists.  It was a very tight race between four or five players for the monthly honour.

- Tonight's game is also a Shaw TV broadcast.

- It's been a busy stretch for the Blazers after a pair of games in Victoria this week Tuesday and Wednesday.  The team travelled home yesterday arriving back in Kamloops at 3pm.  The team skated this morning in preparation for tonight's contest.  They will host Victoria tomorrow night to wrap up a four-game week.

- The Blazers leave for Saskatchewan in just six days for their longest road trip of the season as they play all six Eastern division teams from Dec 10-17.