Two teams trying hard to to get their feet on the ground early in this WHL regular season will clash Wednesday night in Kamloops.
The host Blazers have lost their first four starts, the first time in the franchise’s 35-year history that has happened.
The Tri-City Americans are 1-1-1 and searching for consistency. On Saturday, they dropped a 4-3 OT decision to the visiting Spokane Chiefs. On Sunday, the host Americans opened a 5-0 lead, only to have the Seattle Thunderbirds scored the next five goals and force OT. The Americans then won the game on a goal from defenceman Parker Wotherspoon at 2:13 of extra time.
“I think we started feeling too good about ourselves,” Tri-City head coach Mike Williamson told Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald after Sunday’s game. “I just loved the way we started the game and everyone was playing so hard and competing for loose pucks and winning those battles. We were playing really, really well together, but you could feel it evaporate a little bit and a little complacency set in. Give credit to Seattle; they took advantage of some miscues by us and took advantage of it.”
The Blazers go into tonight as one of two winless teams in the 22-team league — the Portland Winterhawks are 0-3-0.
Other numbers are trending in the wrong direction, too, and the Blazers know they need to get things turned around before it’s too late. Their goal differential, the difference between goals scored and goals allowed, is minus-11, the poorest in the league. They also are giving up five goals a game and that is the highest in the league, tied with the Americans.
After two season-opening losses to the Kelowna Rockets, Kamloops head coach Don Hay talked about how he wanted his charges to stay in the mix and not lose touch with the other teams in the Western Conference.
Granted, it’s awfully early, but the Blazers are five points out of fifth place, the mid-point in the conference standings.
Kamloops is coming off a weekend in Victoria during which it scored three goals in dropping 4-2 and 5-1 decisions to the Royals.
Freshman forward Garrett Pilon, who scored three goals and added two assists in 4-3 and 7-3 losses to the Rockets on the opening weekend, was blanked in Victoria. He is tied for the team scoring lead with forwards Jake Kryski, who has two goals, and Jesse Zaharichuk, who has a team-high four assists.
Fifth-year forward Matt Needham, who is coming off a season in which he had career highs in games played (71), goals (25), assists (51) and points (76), doesn’t yet have a point.
Last season, Needham centred Coly Ully, the Blazers’ leading scorer, and Deven Sideroff. Ully, 20, is with the AHL’s Texas Stars. Sideroff is recovering from an illness, has yet to play this season and won’t be in the lineup tonight. In fact, although he is back skating, the Blazers show him as week-to-week on the injury report that was released Tuesday.
Defenceman Conner McDonald, who has yet to play this season after being injured early in training camp, also is
week-to-week, while veteran forward Matt Revel, who came back from a shoulder injury on Friday, is day-to-day after reinjuring the shoulder.
The Blazers may have forward Jackson Shepard, 15, in their lineup tonight. A second-round pick in the WHL’s 2015 bantam draft, Shepard skated with the Blazers on Tuesday.
The 5-foot-7, 165-pounder has seven points, including two goals, in six games with the major midget Vancouver-North West Giants. He will rejoin the Giants on Saturday.
Tri-City forward Max James, who is from Kamloops, has one assist in two games. He missed the Americans’ opener as he was in camp with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
An undrafted free agent, James, 18, went to Arizona’s rookie camp, along with teammate Austyn Playfair. Both were held over for main camp.
“We knew we were going home at some point, but it was nice to stay a little longer and skate with the NHL guys,” James
told Fowler upon his return to the Americans.
James severely damaged three teeth — he had root canals done on all three — on the opening day of Arizona’s main camp when he was struck in the face by Nicklas Grossman’s stick.
“I shattered one tooth and the other two were split in half,” James said.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound James told Fowler that Arizona management told him “for my size, they said I was a good skater and they liked how physical I was.
“They want me to evolve my game and make it more complete so I can play at a higher level.”
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. . . . The Blazers likely will start G Connor Ingram (0-3-0, 4.76, .856), while the Americans counter with Evan Sarthou (1-1-1, 4.97, .819). He has three complete games this season. . . . For what it’s worth, the Blazers were 3-1-0 against the Americans last season. Kamloops won 3-0 and 3-1 at home and split in Kennewick, Wash., losing 5-2 and winning 2-0. . . . Tri-City F Braden Purtill has been cleared to play after taking a high hit from Spokane D Jacob Cardiff on Saturday. Cardiff took a charging major on the play and drew a three-game suspension. Purtill didn’t play Sunday against Seattle. . . . Americans F Brian Williams, who had 42 points, including 17 goals, in 59 games last season, is out with a foot injury, while Playfair won’t play after being hurt in a scrap with Cardiff. D Riley Hillis is week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. . . . After tonight, the Blazers next play on Saturday against the visiting Royals.
For more WHL news, check out Taking Note at TheCoachesSite.com.