The Kamloops Blazers are finding that victory can be as elusive as a feather in a windstorm.
The Blazers have lost their first five games this WHL season, the first time that has happened in the franchise’s 35 years. Prior to this skid, the longest season-opening slump had lasted three games.
On Saturday night, the Blazers will try again to end the slide.
This time the opposition will be provided by the Victoria Royals, who swept the visiting Blazers, 4-2 and 5-1, last
weekend. For what it’s worth, the Royals have won each of the last five Saturday games these teams have played.
The Royals got 26 saves from goaltender Coleman Vollrath in blanking the Rockets 3-0 in Kelowna on Friday night. Victoria now is 6-1-0 and riding high atop the B.C. Division.
The Blazers last played Wednesday when they dropped a 4-3 decision to the visiting Tri-City Americans.
Kamloops had played its first four games without once holding a lead. Against the Americans, the Blazers led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but weren’t able to hold on for the victory.
Despite the loss, head coach Don Hay saw some positives in his club’s play.
“I thought we competed at a good level,” Hay said. “I liked the way we competed and started. We had good focus. We came out hard, took pucks to the nets and scored. We got rewarded. We were around the net and that’s really important with how we want to play.”
Veteran forward Collin Shirley scored his first goal of the season, while Matt Needham, the team’s captain, picked up his first point.
“They’ve gotten off to a tough start,” Hay said of his veteran players, “and they’re working their way through it. There’s no guarantees that you’re going to come out of it right away. You just have to stick with it and, if you do, good things will happen.”
The Blazers are in one those stretches were mistakes often become magnified when pucks end up in their net. On Wednesday, Needham, one of the best faceoff artists in the WHL, lost a draw in his zone to Parker Bowles, who drew the puck back to defenceman Brandon Carlo. He lofted it towards the net and it ended up in behind goaltender Connor Ingram.
That goal came at 4:26 of the first period, just 1:24 after the Blazers had opened the scoring, giving them a lead for the first time in four-plus games.
“Things pile up . . . they sure do,” Hay said. “You just have to stick with it and build off some of the good things we did. You have to come to the rink the next day and want to get better.”
Having seen Victoria in two games, the Blazers should know what to expect. The Royals are trying to reloaded on the fly after losing veteran mainstays like forwards Brandon Magee and Austin Carroll, and defenceman Travis Brown. They opened with a six-game home stand and went 5-1-0, but four of those victories were against the Blazers and Portland Winterhawks, who went into this weekend a combined 0-8-0.
“Victoria plays a fast game. They play a quick game,” Hay said. “We have to be prepared to skate with them.”
If the Blazers are ready for that, it should be entertaining. They were at their best on Wednesday in the latter half of the first period when they really had their skating game in gear.
JUST NOTES: Game time is 7 o’clock. . . . F Chasetan Braid, 18, who was acquired from the Saskatoon Blades on Thursday, skated with the Blazers yesterday. He is scheduled to play tonight, wearing No. 18. . . . Kamloops again will be without F Deven Sideroff tonight. He has yet to play this season because of an illness. . . . Veteran F Matt Revel (shoulder) may not play, either. . . . Victoria D Joe Hicketts, who is from Kamloops, has eight points, all assists, in seven games. In the two games against the Blazers, he picked up five assists. . . . The announced attendance on Wednesday was 3,195, the second-smallest crowd in the history of the arena, which opened in time for the 1992-93 season. The only smaller crowd? On Jan. 3, 1993, 2,988 fans watched the Americans beat the Blazers, 7-4. . . . The Blazers are home to the Red Deer Rebels on Tuesday, 7 p.m. . . .
The Blazers will have to get by without D Nolan Kneen for as many as five games later this month as he plays in the U17 World Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. The tournament runs from Oct. 30 through Nov. 7. Kneen, the third overall pick in the 2014 WHL bantam draft, was one of 66 player selections announced Friday by Hockey Canada, which will have three teams — Black, Red and White — in the tournament. . . . Teams from Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States also will compete. . . . Kneen, from Duncan, has a goal and an assist in five games with the Blazers. . . . F Brendan Semchuk of Kamloops also was selected by Hockey Canada. The Vancouver Giants selected Semchuk with the 10th pick of the 2014 draft. He is pointless in three games with the Giants.
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