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Blazers head south for three games

Injured Rehill not expected to play
February 1, 2016 8:05 P.M.

Coaches in most, if not all, sports talk about injured players as though they no longer are with the team.
Out of sight, out of mind, if you will.
But it was hard not to notice the absence of defenceman Ryan Rehill from the Kamloops Blazers’ two weekend home games.
Rehill, who has an undisclosed injury, sat out a 4-3 overtime loss to the Vancouver Giants on Friday and Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Portland Winterhawks.
Rehill wasn’t on the Blazers’ bus when it headed south Monday for three games against U.S. Division opponents. The Blazers (23-18-8) open tonight in Kennewick, Wash., against the Tri-City Americans (22-25-2). On Wednesday, it’s on to Kent, Wash., for a meeting with the Seattle Thunderbirds (27-19-3). On Friday, the Blazers will visit the Everett Silvertips (29-16-4).
Kamloops returns home to face the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday, 5 p.m.
Without Rehill, the 20-year-old who no doubt leads the team’s skaters in minutes played, the Blazers surrendered 44 and 43 shots on goal, respectively, in last weekend’s games. Had it not been for the play of goaltender Connor Ingram, both games easily could have had different outcomes.
“Our (defence) was pushed to the limit,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said after Saturday’s game. “We’ve got a pretty young (defence) back there. They withstood a lot of the pressure.”
With Rehill out, his usual partner, Czech freshman Ondrej Vala, 17, found himself paired with another freshman, 16-year-old Nolan Kneen. Dallas Valentine, 19, and Dawson Davidson, 17, formed another duo. The third one featured Cam Reagan, 18, perhaps the Blazers’ most improved player since the start of the season, and Conner McDonald, 16.
The defence didn’t play that badly, although Vala struggled at times as he attempted to adjust to playing with Kneen.
Against Vancouver, the forwards, for the most part, didn’t enjoy one of their finer evenings. In fact, they appeared disinterested for much of the time, especially when it came to playing in their defensive zone. The Vancouver forwards, particularly the line of Trevor Cox, Chase Lang and Ty Ronning, had free reign for much of the game.
The Blazers were better on Saturday in the victory over Portland, but still allowed far too many shots on goal — and scoring chances — than head coach Don Hay wants to see. “We had more focus and we competed harder on pucks,” Hay said in comparing the two games. “We were more physical and we were around the net a lot more. It was back and forth . . . both teams put a lot of pucks on the net.”
The Blazers ended January by snapping a four-game losing skid in which they were 0-3-1. The game on Saturday also ended a stretch in which they played 14 games in 30 days. That was just a warmup in preparation for an even busier February — tonight is the first of 14 games in 27 days. They twice will play four games in five nights and twice will have weekends during which they will play three times.
The Blazers entered this week in possession of the 10-team Western Conference’s first of two wild-card playoff spots, two points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks.
The first wild-card finisher will meet the conference’s No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs. At the moment, that is the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips.
Finish in the second wild-card spot and you draw the conference’s top seed that, at the moment, is the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets.
This season, the Rockets are 5-0-0 against the Blazers. Last season, that number was 9-1-0. Over the past five seasons, it is 29-9-3.
Everett, meanwhile, is 2-0-0 against the Blazers this season, after going 4-0-0 last season. Over the past five seasons, Everett has a 10-5-3 edge.
JUST NOTES: The Americans are ninth in the conference, six points out of a playoff spot. They are eight points behind the Blazers. . . . The Blazers and Americans have split two games this season, both of them in Kamloops. The Blazers won 3-2 on Jan. 8; the Americans won 4-3 on Oct. 7. . . . F Matt Needham scored all three of the Blazers’ goals on Jan. 8. . . . The Thunderbirds are second in the U.S. Division, five points behind first-place Everett and four ahead of the third-place Spokane Chiefs. . . . Seattle is 2-0-0 against the Blazers this season, having won 4-3 in OT in Kamloops on Nov. 20 and 7-2 in Kent on Oct. 16. . . . F Collin Shirley has two goals and an assist in the two games, the only Kamloops skater with more than one point. . . . F Ryan Gropp, a Kamloops native, has four goals and an assist in the two games for the Thunderbirds. . . . With D Jerret Smith and D Jarret Tyszka injured, Seattle has added D Jared Pelechaty, a 17-year-old from Winnipeg, to their roster. He is expected to return to the MJHL’s Neepawa Natives in about 10 days.
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JM Birk says:
February 2, 2016 07:42am

The upcoming schedule of three games in four nights leading to five games in seven nights is ridiculous. This is unfair to players leaving them vulnerable to injury due to fatigue. The WHL needs to look at eliminating these types of scheduling problems.

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JM Birk says:
February 2, 2016 06:19am

The upcoming schedule of five games in seven days is ridiculous. This is unfair to players leaving them vulnerable to injury due to fatigue. The WHL needs to look at eliminating these types of scheduling problems.

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