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Blazers' regular season winding down

Chase for playoff spots continues against Chiefs
March 1, 2016 5:06 P.M.

There was no jump in Don Hay’s step, no lilt in his voice when the Kamloops Blazers’ head coach came out of the dressing room for a post-game chat with the media on Sunday night.
The Blazers had just surrendered a goal with 2:02 left in the third period, a goal that allowed the Seattle Thunderbirds to get out of town with a 4-3 victory.
Hay’s analysis lasted one minute 30 seconds, likely his shortest autopsy of this season. One answer was three words in length. A couple of others were one sentence.
So what happened with the usually loquacious Hay? Let’s just say that patience is in short supply these days, what with the end of the regular season frighteningly close when you don’t yet have a playoff spot in your hip pocket.
Hay was bitterly disappointed that his team had coughed up a point and, as a result, didn’t give itself a chance to get into OT or a shootout and get two of them.
It meant that the Blazers (29-25-9) lost out on the opportunity to close within one point of the third-place Prince George Cougars in the B.C. Division. It meant that the Blazers were left in a tie with the Spokane Chiefs for the 10-team Western Conference’s two wild-card playoff spots.
By coincidence, the Chiefs (29-24-9) will be at the Sandman Centre tonight (Wednesday).
The Blazers have nine games remaining in this regular season, with four of those scheduled for home ice. Those home games will be against the Chiefs, Kelowna Rockets, Vancouver Giants and Prince George.
The Blazers will go on the road to face Kelowna twice, the Tri-City Americans, Spokane and Prince George.
The Blazers are 2-0-0 against Spokane, 0-4-1 against Kelowna, 4-0-3 against Vancouver, 4-3-1 against Prince George and 1-2-0 against Tri-City.
After playing at home against the Chiefs on Wednesday and the Rockets on Friday, the Blazers will finish up by playing five of their last seven games on the road, starting Saturday in Kelowna. Kamloops is 16-10-6 at home and 13-15-3 on the road.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have stayed in the thick of the U.S. Division playoff race — they are 3-3-4 in their last 10 games — despite having been without three key performers. Defenceman Jason Fram and forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Wyatt Johnson are listed as being out week-to-week, and Tim Speltz, the Chiefs’ general manager, says there aren’t any timelines for their returns.
Fram, the Chiefs’ captain, is in his fifth season in Spokane. He has 185 points, including 154 assists, in 305 career games. This season, as a 20-year-old, he has 44 points, 33 of them assists, in 52 games. But he hasn’t played since Feb. 12.
Yamamoto, one of the WHL’s top 17-year-olds, has 64 points, including 19 goals, in 50 games. The Spokane native has been sidelined since Feb. 3.
Johnson, 20, was acquired from Red Deer as part of a deal in which sniper Adam Helewka, 20, went to the Rebels. However, Johnson has played only nine games with Spokane — he has four goals and three assists — and hasn’t dressed since Jan. 23.
Since Johnson went down, the Chiefs are 7-5-4. With 10 games remaining, they are fourth in the U.S. Division, one point behind the Portland Winterhawks and eight behind the second-place Seattle Thunderbirds.
Nachbaur, in his 18th season as a WHL head coach, may be doing one of his best coaching jobs.
“Don has done a great job with this group,” Speltz said, via text. “Our players have bought in and competed hard under the circumstances. Our team has held their own in a very competitive Western Conference and U.S. Division.”
Nachbaur is the third-winningest coach in WHL history, his 661 regular-season victories trailing only the retired Ken Hodge (742) and Hay (666).
JUST NOTES: The Blazers have added G Cole Kehler, 18, to their roster for the remainder of this season. After being in training camp with the Blazers, he went on to play for the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials, whose season has ended. In Merritt, Kehler was 18-24-0, 3.84, .898. During his career, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has played in 32 games with the Blazers, going 4-18-2, 4.79, .856. . . . Adding Kehler will give the Blazers the option of providing starter Connor Ingram with some rest from practice down the stretch. Ingram has started 53 of the Blazers’ 63 games to date. The other starts have gone to backup Dylan Ferguson. . . . The Medicine Hat Tigers have added F Ryan Chyzowski of Kamloops to their roster. He had 22 points, including 14 goals, in 31 games with the major midget Thompson Blazers, whose season is over. The Tigers selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2015 bantam draft. He is the younger brother of Blazers F Nick Chyzowski.
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