Two teams speeding in opposite directions are scheduled to meet tonight (Friday) in Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum.
The Kamloops Blazers (8-8-0) have won five straight games and eight of their last 10. That includes a 2-1 victory in Vancouver on Nov. 6.
The Vancouver Giants (4-10-4) are riding a nine-game losing streak (0-7-2), including a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rockets in Kelowna on Wednesday.
Long forgotten are the early days of this WHL regular season when the Blazers started 0-6-0 and the Giants opened with
three victories in their first four games and made an appearance in the CHL’s weekly rankings. Since then, Vancouver is 1-9-4.
The Giants already have had 33 players get into at least one game, including four goaltenders. They have moved out two of those goaltenders — Payton Lee now is with the Edmonton Oil Kings, while Cody Porter is with the Calgary Hitmen — and brought in Daniel Wapple, 20, from the Regina Pats, who likely will start tonight.
The Blazers, meanwhile, have been a picture of stability since acquiring centre Gage Quinney from the Kelowna Rockets and defenceman Dallas Valentine from the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The Blazers were 1-6-0 when Quinney, a 20-year-old from Las Vegas, and Valentine, a 19-year-old from Lousana, Alta., joined them. The Rockets had four 20-year-olds and one of them had to go; thus, Quinney hit the highway to Kamloops.
Last season, he had 15 points, including six goals, in 32 games with the Prince Albert Raiders when he was traded to
Kelowna. With the Rockets, he put up 31 points, 10 of them goals, in 38 games and helped them reach the Memorial Cup where they lost the final in OT.
That experience is one of the intangibles the Blazers wanted from Quinney.
When he arrived here, he found a team struggling to find its identity. With him and Valentine, who isn’t flashy but keeps the house clean, in the lineup, they are 7-2-0.
“I don’t think they were beaten down,” Quinney said. “Every team has their struggles. Right now we’re winning and everything is going good. You’re always happy to see that.”
The Blazers now are in possession of a playoff spot; in fact, they are one point behind the Prince George Cougars (8-7-1), who are third in the B.C. Division and will play in Kamloops on Sunday.
In their last game, a 5-2 victory over the visiting Cougars on Saturday, Blazers head coach Don Hay spent most of the night rolling four lines. His team looked quite comfortable doing it too.
“I liked the looks of the lines. They all played well,” Hay said.
Two of his forwards — left-winger Collin Shirley and right-winger Deven Sideroff — spent Monday and Tuesday playing for Team WHL in its two victories over a touring Russian side. In the opener, Shirley and Sideroff flanked Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors, the WHL’s leading scorer. On Tuesday, they were on a line with Mathew Barzal of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who may be the league’s top passer.
Interestingly, Shirley and Sideroff aren’t linemates with the Blazers. On Saturday, Shirley lined up with Quinney and Matt Revel, while Sideroff was with Matt Campese and Matt Needham.
Those combinations worked well against the Cougars, so it’s unlikely that Hay will do any juggling, at least not to start the game.
“We’d like to really focus on playing a complete 60 minutes here,” Hay said after that game. “We’ve got some time off here. We’ll have some good practices and get ready for the weekend.” JUST NOTES: Tonight’s game starts at 7:30 and will be televised by Sportsnet with Joey Kenward calling the play and former Blazers G Corey Hirsch providing analysis. This is Hirsch’s first Sportsnet assignment as an on-site analyst. . . . Former NHL F Cliff Ronning was on the ice with the Giants during their Thursday practice. His son, Ty, is a forward who leads the Giants in goals (9) and points (14). . . . Sunday’s game at the Sandman Centre is to begin at 6 p.m.
There’s more WHL news with Taking Note at TheCoachesSite.com. While you’re there, don’t forget to get your free copy of A Coaching Life, an eBook that features eight prominent coaches, including the Blazers’ Don Hay and former Blazers F Ryan Huska, who how is the head coach of the Stockton Heat, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.