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Blazers in urgent need of victories

Cougars in town for game Wednesday night
By Gregg Drinnan
October 27, 2015 10:05 A.M.

The calendar hasn’t yet turned to November, but you can’t overstate the urgency of the position in which the Kamloops Blazers find themselves.
The Blazers, who are at home tonight to the Prince George Cougars, have won only three times in their first 11 games in this WHL regular season. As a result, they find themselves in last place in the 10-team Western Conference, three points behind the Tri-City Americans.
Last season, the WHL invoked a playoff system that includes two wild-card spots in each conference. The Blazers go into tonight’s game four points out of a wild-card spot in their conference.
It has long been said in hockey circles that a team can’t make the playoffs in a season’s first 20 games, but its play in that stretch certainly can cause it to miss the postseason.
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada keeps track of NHL teams that are four points out of the playoffs on Nov. 1. He discovered that the odds of teams in that position making it to the playoffs aren’t good.
Almost a year ago, Friedman wrote:
“Teams more than four points out of the playoffs on Nov. 1 face a serious fight to get in. Since 2003-04, only five clubs out of 40 that far behind on that date made it.”
That, of course, is because of the advent of the loser point, the single point awarded to a team that loses in overtime or a shootout.
One would have to think the numbers would be similar in the WHL, which, like the NHL, awards loser points.
After Tuesday’s games, WHL Western Conference teams had earned seven such points, while that number was 12 in the 12-team Eastern Conference. No matter how you look at it, it now is a harder to gain ground in the standings than it was when every game was a two-pointer.
Because of that, then, the Blazers’ soft start means that they are badly in need of victories.
The good news for the Blazers (3-8-0) is that they have won three of five games since opening with six straight losses. They lost 4-2 loss to the visiting Calgary Hitmen on Friday.
The Cougars (6-5-0) are coming off a 3-1 victory over the Giants in Vancouver on Sunday, their sixth victory in 10 games. That victory has the Cougars in third place in the B.C. Division, six points ahead of the Blazers. Should Prince George win tonight, then, it would hold an eight-point lead.
The Cougars are being led offensively by forward Jesse Gabrielle, 19, who was acquired from the Regina Pats before the season began. He has a team-high nine goals and 11 points, and is the reigning WHL player of the week. The Cougars don’t have another player with more than four goals.
The Giants (4-6-2) have lost three in a row but are four points ahead of the Blazers. Vancouver shook things up Tuesday by making a five-player deal with the Calgary Hitmen, acquiring defenceman Ben Thomas and forward Chase Lang for goaltender Cody Porter and forwards Jackson Houck and Jakob Stukel.
The Giants entertain the Lethbridge Hurricanes tonight. The Hurricanes improved to 9-2-0 with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Royals in Victoria. The Royals (8-5-1) picked up their first loser point of the season.
Lethbridge is scheduled to visit the Blazers on Friday.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. . . . This will be the first of 10 meetings between the Blazers and Cougars this season. The first three will be played in Kamloops. . . . The Blazers will be without D Nolan Kneen, 16, for the next five games. He is playing for one of three Hockey Canada entries in the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, from Friday through Nov. 7. There are at least 19 WHL players in that tournament, including F Brendan Semchuk of the Vancouver Giants, who is from Kamloops. . . . Prince George D Tate Olson, a seventh-round selection by the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL’s 2015 draft, is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. . . . Blazers F Gage Quinney has six points, including two goals, in four games since being acquired from Kelowna. . . . Kamloops F Jesse Zaharichuk has 10 points, three of them goals, in nine games.
There’s more WHL news with Taking Note at While you’re there, don’t forget to get your free copy of A Coaching Life, an eBook that features eight prominent coaches, including the Blazers’ Don Hay and former Blazers F Ryan Huska.

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