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Christmas break is over for Blazers

Will play three times in next four nights
December 26, 2015 8:46 P.M.

The long-awaited return of the Kamloops Blazers is upon local hockey fans.
The Blazers, who last played at the Sandman Centre on Dec. 5, return from the Christmas break tonight (Sunday) to face the Kelowna Rockets. The teams will complete the doubleheader in Kelowna on Monday night.
The last time the Blazers appeared at home, they dropped a 5-4 decision to the Medicine Hat Tigers. One night prior to that, they were beaten 3-2 in a shootout by the Portland Winterhawks.
The Blazers then went on the road and won five of six games in the East Division, the first time in franchise history that they have won five times on that road swing.
So when they hit the ice tonight they will be 17-11-4 and tied for sixth place with the Spokane Chiefs (17-13-4) in the 10-team Western Conference. They are two points behind the Everett Silvertips (19-11-2) and five ahead of the Winterhawks (16-16-1).
The Blazers last played on Dec. 19 when they beat the Broncos 3-0 in Swift Current as goaltender Connor Ingram turned aside 33 shots for his first shutout of the season.
Kamloops players scattered after the game, most of them heading home for Christmas. An exception was defenceman Ondrej Vala, whose parents journeyed here from Czech Republic to enjoy the holidays with their son.
Defenceman Patrik Maier, the Blazers’ other import, won’t be in the Blazers’ lineup tonight. He is in Helsinki, Finland, playing with the Slovakian national junior team.
His teammates, all of them, were back in Kamloops in time for a Saturday skate.
The Rockets, meanwhile, were playing in the East Division at the same time as the Blazers. They went 3-3-0, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Blades in Saskatoon on Dec. 19 in the final game of their road trip. One night earlier, the Rockets lost 3-1 to the Prince Albert Raiders, meaning Kelowna arrives here on a two-game skid. It’s the only time this season that the Rockets have lost two in a row.
The Rockets are without forward Rourke Chartier, who is with Canada’s national junior team, as well as freshman forward Calvin Thurkauf (Switzerland) and sophomore forward Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic).
Forward Nick Merkley, who was among Team Canada’s last cuts, has rejoined the Rockets.
The Rockets also will be without freshman defenceman Cal Foote. He will serve a one-game suspension after taking a headshot major and game misconduct in Saskatoon.
Kelowna is led by veteran forward Tyson Baillie, who sits atop the WHL scoring race, with 58 points in 35 games. His 23 goals are second only to the 26 scored by forward Jon Martin of the Swift Current Broncos.
Kelowna goes into the post-Christmas schedule with the WHL’s best record (25-9-1). The Rockets lead the overall standings by three points over the Lethbridge Hurricanes (24-11-0) and are atop the Western Conference by seven points over the Victoria Royals (21-12-2).
Once the Blazers complete the doubleheader with the Rockets, they will get ready for a two-game visit by the Royals, who are scheduled to play here on Wednesday and Friday.
Victoria is without defenceman Joe Hicketts, a Kamloops native, and head coach Dave Lowry, both of whom are with Canada’s national junior team.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 6 o’clock. . . . On Wednesday, the game is to begin at 7 p.m., with the New Year’s Day game set for a 2 p.m. start. . . . The Rockets have won all three meetings with the Blazers this season, including a 4-3 OT victory in Kamloops on Nov. 18. . . . Baillie has eight points, four of them goals, in the three games. . . . F Garrett Pilon leads the Blazers agains the Rockets, with six points, including four goals. . . . The WHL’s Christmas trade freeze ended Saturday at midnight. The trade deadline is Jan 10.
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If you haven’t already, visit TheCoachesSite.com for more WHL news and notes.

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