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Blazers open season Friday in Kelowna

Will wear new sweaters at home Saturday
By Gregg Drinnan
September 24, 2015 12:20 P.M.
Matt Needham (left), Collin Shirley and Connor Ingram of the Kamloops Blazers show off the team's new sweaters.

As Matt Needham stood at the front of the Kamloops Blazers’ boardroom on Thursday, he was having flashbacks.
Slightly more than four years ago, he had been in the same room for the first time as he signed a WHL contract, donned a Blazers sweater and was introduced to Kamloops hockey fans.
“It’s gone by pretty quick,” said Needham, who was helping the team introduce its new sweaters yesterday. “I stood in this room today and I was remembering my first press conference when I was 14 or 15.
“I’m sitting here right now and it’s, like, ‘Wow! The time just flew by.’ ”
Needham, the team captain, fellow forward Collin Shirley and goaltender Connor Ingram were on hand to show off the new look. The biggest change is in the primary logo, which no longer contains the name of the team’s host city. Management announced the change on Aug. 14, saying that it was looking for a “fresh and clean new look.”
The Blazers open the WHL’s 50th anniversary Friday night against the host Kelowna Rockets. The same teams will meet in Kamloops on Saturday with the Blazers wearing their new duds for the first time.
While they will be without F Matt Revel (shoulder), D Conner McDonald (undisclosed injury) and F Deven Sideroff (virus), they will have veteran D Ryan Rehill in the lineup.
Rehill, 20, had been in camp with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft but haven’t signed him. Rehill, who is from Edmonton, will be starting his fourth season in Kamloops. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Rehill is one of the WHL’s most rugged players so you can bet their were smiles in the Blazers’ dressing room yesterday.
“I’m happy for the team . . . I talked to him a couple of times. He felt he played pretty well,” Needham said.
Having Rehill back means the Blazers will have to make another roster move at some point. His presence leaves them with four 20-year-olds on their roster — the other two are D Marc McNulty and F Luke Harrison — and that’s one over the allowable limit. They have until Oct. 15 to get down to three.
“It’s part of the game,” Needham said. “I’m obviously close with all the guys. They’re all great guys and they’re all good players. I know everyone is just trying to play hard to give themselves an opportunity to stay.”
As Needham heads into his final WHL season, he recognizes exactly how important it is to him. He is coming off a season in which he had career highs in games played (71), goals (25), assists (51) and points (76).
He said he is approaching the season the same way he went into 2014-15.
“I kind of picked things up and had a good season and got back on my feet,” he said. “If I can keep going from what I did last season then I’m confident that things should work out.”
He also is well aware that “team success leads to individual success. I have to focus on winning games and playing good hockey.”
As the Blazers go into their second season under veteran head coach Don Hay, Needham is wanting a better start than a year ago when a seven-game early November losing streak really hurt their playoff chances.
“Every point, every game is big,” Needham said. “Last season, we missed the playoffs by two points. We have to think about that all season; you get every point you can. If you start off good, then you don’t have to worry about chasing.”
Knowing what Hay expects will make a big difference, according to Needham.
“We have learned a lot from him,” Needham said. “You could see the team last season . . . it took a while to get accustomed to him. Some guys had to kind of wrap their heads around it, but once they did everything was real good. We had a good work ethic . . . everyone was on the same page.”
JUST NOTES: Needham has played in 251 regular-season games with the Blazers. The franchise record (348) is held by F Brendan Ranford (2008-13), so is out of reach. . . . Rehill is expected to arrive back in Kamloops late this afternoon. . . . The Blazers are introducing a new promotion involving Wednesday home games of which there are nine. If the Blazers win a Wednesday game, every fan in the building will receive a ticket to the next Wednesday game. The Blazers’ first Wednesday home game is Oct. 7 against the Tri-City Americans.

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