The Kamloops Blazers Czech-mated their roster at Sunday’s WHL trade deadline, then they went out and completed a doubleheader sweep of the host Portland Winterhawks.
Early Sunday, the Blazers announced that they had acquired forward Jiri Smejkal, a 19-year-old Czech, from the Moose
Jaw Warriors for defenceman Patrik Maier, a 19-year-old from Slovakia.
The Blazers’ other import player is Czech defenceman Ondrej Vala, who is in his first WHL season. He and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Smejkal know each other, but aren’t close friends. However, Smejkal and defenceman Dallas Valentine, who was acquired on Oct. 15 from the Warriors, are pals.
Smejkal, who is expected to make his Kamloops debut in Medicine Hat against the Tigers on Wednesday, had asked the Warriors to trade him and, in fact, had chosen not to return to the team after playing in the World Junior Championship.
Later, the Blazers went out and beat Portland, 3-0, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, behind 21 saves from goaltender Connor Ingram, who posted his second shutout of the season.
More importantly, the victory moved the Blazers six points ahead of the Winterhawks in the Western Conference standings. The Blazers had beaten the Winterhawks, 4-3 in overtime, on Saturday night.
The Blazers played three games in three nights and won them all, having gotten past the visiting Tri-City Americans, 3-2, on Friday night.
The Blazers (21-14-6) are fourth in the B.C. Division and fifth in the conference. Most importantly, they hold down the conference’s first wild-card playoff spot, with the Winterhawks (20-19-2) owning the second one.
Under the WHL’s playoff format, the only way for the Blazers to move out of the wild-card spot is to get into third in the B.C. Division. They are four points behind the third-place Prince George Cougars (25-15-2).
Last night, centre Garrett Pilon scored on a breakaway, giving the Blazers a 1-0 lead with his 10th goal at 12:05 of the first period.
Left-winger Matt Campese upped it to 2-0 with his second goal in as many nights, beating goaltender Adin Hill with a long shot from along the boards at 15:30 of the second period. Campese, who has five goals, had ended a 16-game drought on Saturday.
The Blazers put it away at 14:28 of the third period when left-winger Jake Kryski scored his eighth goal of the season on a breakaway.
For what it’s worth, all three Kamloops goals were unassisted.
As for the trade, Alan Millar, the Warriors’ general manager, said he was trying to make the best of a “difficult” situation.
"Obviously we were disappointed with Jiri's position coming out of the world juniors that he requested a trade and didn't return," Millar told Matthew Gourlie of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald. "We were only going to do a deal that was good for our hockey club. We weren't going to have a gun put to our head.
“At the end of the day, we’re really happy with the deal.”
According to Gourlie, Smejkal had made his unhappiness known before leaving for the WJC and had packed all of his belongings before leaving Moose Jaw. Millar thought discussions over Christmas had smoothed the waters, but that turned out not to be the case.
"There was an issue and some discussions when he left and when he got there," Millar said. "There were some concerns, but in my opinion those were resolved and then they resurfaced on Wednesday."
With the Warriors, Smejkal was primarily a third-line player and saw time on the penalty-killing unit. With the Czech national team, he put up two goals and two assists while playing on the top line, mostly with David Pastrnak, who had been loaned to the team by the NHL’s Boston Bruins, and Michael Spacek of the Red Deer Rebels.
This season, his second in the WHL, Smejkal, who is comfortable at left wing or centre, had four goals and 14 assists in 28 games with the Warriors. Last season, he finished with 12 goals and 20 assists in 72 games.
"He wanted a better opportunity offensively and felt he hadn't gotten it here," Millar said.
Maier also is in his second WHL season. For whatever reason, he never really seemed to fit into head coach Don Hay’s scheme. As a result, Maier sometimes was a healthy scratch. This season, in 18 games, he had two goals and an assist. Last season, he recorded five goals and five assists in 65 games.
"We got an experienced defenceman who is a hard-nosed guy,” Millar told Gourlie. “He's another guy who plays the game hard. He's another guy played at the world junior championships and he's a solid player. And draft picks are valuable.”
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,386. . . . The Blazers were 0-for-5 on the power play; the Winterhawks were 0-for-4. . . . Again, the Blazers scratched F Gage Quinney, Valentine and D Dawson Davidson, all of whom are injured. It is hoped that Valentine will return Wednesday in Medicine Hat. He has missed eight games. . . . Ingram has five career shutouts. This was the third time this season that Portland has been blanked. . . . Hill finished with 31 saves. . . . The Blazers are 4-3-2 since returning from the Christmas break. After losing the first three of those games, they have points in six straight (4-0-2). . . . Kamloops now will go into Alberta for three games before returning home to face the Everett Silvertips on Jan. 20.
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