The Kamloops Blazers will at least get a feeling for how much depth they have on their roster when they meet the Kelowna Rockets tonight at the Sandman Centre.
The Blazers (9-8-1) could be without three veterans, with centre Matt Needham, left-winger Jake Kryski and defenceman Dallas Valentine all having been injured in Sunday’s 9-1 victory over the visiting Prince George Cougars.
Needham is listed as day-to-day and Kryski week-to-week. Valentine, according to the Blazers, could miss up to 10 days. All have undisclosed injuries.
The Blazers and Rockets (14-5-1) have been the hottest teams in the WHL over the past 10 games, each of them going
8-1-1. The Rockets are tied with the Victoria Royals for first place in the 10-team Western Conference, while the Blazers, who lost their first six games this season, are eighth.
You can bet that the Blazers are looking forward to the challenge.
“You always want to gauge yourself against the top teams and Kelowna and Victoria are the top teams in the (conference). It should be fun,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said. “It’ll be fun to go head-to-head against them. We feel we’re playing well and they’re playing well. We’re looking forward to it.”
Hay isn’t kidding when he says his guys are playing well. They haven’t lost in regulation time since dropping a 4-2 decision to the visiting Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 23. Since then, Kamloops is 6-0-1.
“The (0-6-0) start wasn’t great,” Hay said, “but our play since then has been pretty good. We’re creating some chemistry. We’re doing some good things with and without the puck. We’re getting solid effort night after night.”
Of course, the one loss in the Blazers’ last seven games really stung. It occurred Friday in Vancouver when they took a 3-1 lead into the final three minutes of the third period and couldn’t hold it. The Giants scored twice with their goaltender on the bench for the extra attacker and won the game in overtime.
“We had been playing good up until that time and for whatever reason we stopped moving ahead with the puck and skating and doing the right things.,” Hay said.
Prior to playing the Cougars, the coaching staff went over video of the last 150 seconds with the players.
“It was a hard loss,” Hay said, “Losing a game like that was hard. You hope it was a valuable lesson.”
Left-winger Collin Shirley, who had two goals and three assists against the Cougars, felt the Blazers took a victory for granted as time wound down in Vancouver.
“They pulled their goalie and I think we thought it was over,” he said. “It’s something we have to work on. We never stopped working (against Prince George).”
Kamloops centre Gage Quinney, who enjoyed his first WHL three-goal game in Sunday’s victory, has looked forward to tonight’s game since Oct. 15, the day the Rockets traded him to the Blazers. He knows that he will have to work to maintain an even keel.
“I guess you just approach it like every other game and do what you do,” the 20-year-old from Las Vegas said. “Play a simple game like we’ve been doing and we should be fine.”
Asked which of the Rockets would be most likely to engage him in conversation, Quinney laughed and said: “Baillie.” That would be veteran forward Tyson Baillie, who leads the Rockets in goals (13), assists (21) and points (34).
The Rockets, meanwhile, know what they are going to see from Quinney.
“I’m sure we'll get Gage Quinney's best,” Kelowna head coach Brad Ralph told Warren Henderson of the Kelowna Capital News, “so we need to play him hard, maybe harder than anyone else on their team.
“Our guys are all friends with Gage, but they can talk to him when the game is over."
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight (Wednesday) is 7 o’clock. . . . The Rockets will be without their top two centres. Rourke Chartier, a 44-goal man last season, is recovering from a broken wrist, and F Dillon Dube, their second-leading scorer, is out with a facial injury. He took a teammate’s stick near an eye during a game in Portland on Nov. 7 and has yet to return. . . . Kelowna also is missing D Riley Stadel (hand), who was injured in a fight. . . . The Blazers are at home to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday and the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday.