For the first time in their history, the Kamloops Blazers have selected a Latvian player in the CHL import draft.
The Blazers, with the 41st selection in Tuesday’s draft, took Rudolfs Balcers, a 19-year-old forward who is from Liepaja, Latvia. The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder, who is most comfortable on the left wing, was a fifth-round pick by the San Jose
Sharks in the NHL’s 2015 draft. Because he was drafted out of Europe, the Sharks have until June 1, 2019 to sign him.
Despite being from Latvia, Balcers has played in Norway since 2011-12, when he was with Lorenskog’s U-17 team. By 2014-15, he was playing professionally with the Stavenger Oilers in the GET-ligaen, Norway’s top professional league. That season, Balcers had 21 points, including eight goals, in 36 games.
Last season, again with the Oilers, he had 24 points, 15 of them goals, in 43 games. He added 10 points, including six goals, in 17 playoff games as the Oilers went on to win their fifth straight league championship.
Balcers has played internationally for Latvia, since 2013-14, appearing with the U-17, U-18 and U-20 teams. Last winter, he had a goal and an assist in five games at the Division 1A World Junior Championship.
Assuming that Balcers reports, the Blazers will go into the upcoming season with him and Czech defenceman Ondrej Vala as their two import players.
The NHL’s Dallas Stars have a development camp scheduled to begin July 5 in Frisco, Texas, and two players off the Blazers’ 2015-16 roster will be there.
Centre Nick Chyzowski, who is preparing for his fourth season with the Blazers, and defenceman Ryan Rehill, who has used up his junior eligibility, will be at the camp in the home arena of the AHL’s Texas Stars. Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers' majority owns, also owns Dallas's NHL franchise.
Both players are free agents as far as the NHL is concerned. Chyzowski has never been selected in the NHL draft. Rehill was a fifth-round pick by the New Jersey Devils in 2014 but never signed a contract.
Right-winger Cole Ully, a Blazers product who played his first pro season with the AHL Stars last season, also will be in attendance, as will Swiss defenceman Michael Fora, who turns 21 on Oct. 31. He played with the Blazers in 2014-15, and play professionally in Switzerland last season.
Meanwhile, left-winger Collin Shirley, who is preparing for his 20-year-old season with Kamloops, will play for the Edmonton Oilers’ entry in the Young Guns tournament in Penticton, Sept. 16-19. The Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks also will have prospect teams there.
The Blazers will open the regular season by going home-and-home with the Kelowna Rockets. They’ll play in Kamloops on Sept. 23 and in the Little Apple the next night.
When those two games are over, the Blazers will have played 12 of their 14 previous games against Kelowna. Kamloops lost a seven-game first-round playoff series to the Rockets last spring, and three of the Blazers’ three exhibition games will be against Kelowna.
Some notes from the Blazers’ schedule:
After opening at home, they will play seven straight on the road, making stops in Kelowna, Victoria for a doubleheader, Vancouver, Red Deer, Calgary and Medicine Hat. . . .
Kamloops is scheduled to play 17 home games and 19 on the road before Christmas, leaving 19 home and 17 road games for after the break. . . .
Only twice will the Blazers have to play three games in three nights. . . .
There are three instances in which the Blazers will play four games in five nights. One of those is part of pre-Christmas stretch in which they will play six games in eight nights in the Central Division. . . .
The Blazers will return from the Christmas break to play four times in five nights, capping it with a New Year’s Eve visit from the Victoria Royals. That game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. . . .
From Jan. 27 through Feb. 4, the Blazers will play six road games in nine nights. The trip opens in Kelowna before the Blazers head into the U.S. Division for five games. . . .
Kamloops will play only two Sunday home games. Both will start at 5 p.m. . . .
A Remembrance Day visit by the Prince Albert Raiders will begin at 5 p.m. . . .
The Blazers will play 34 games within the B.C. Division, meeting Kelowna 10 times and the other three teams — the Prince George Cougars, Vancouver and Victoria — eight times apiece.
The complete schedule is available at the Blazers’ website — blazerhockey.com.
If you haven’t already, visit TheCoachesSite.com for WHL news, game roundups and a whole lot more. When you get there, just click on Taking Note.