There was a sense of almost, well, giddiness outside the Kamloops Blazers’ dressing room on Wednesday night.
There were smiles and chuckles emanating from players as they dealt with the media. Head coach Don Hay didn’t look quite as grey around the temples.
And why not?
The Blazers are on their first winning streak of the season, having just beaten the visiting Victoria Royals, 3-2. The victory also was the Blazers’ third in their last four games, something that sits pretty well with a team that opened the season with six straight losses.
The Blazers (3-7-0) will try to stretch the winning skein to three tonight against the visiting Calgary Hitmen (6-5-1).
The Blazers also had gotten two goals from left-winger Collin Shirley, the second one winning the game with 31.1
seconds left in the third period.
Shirley, a 19-year-old from Saskatoon, has a team-high six goals. In fact, he may be playing the best hockey of his WHL career, finally showing why the Kootenay Ice selected him with the 17th overall selection in the 2011 bantam draft.
A strong skater, it no longer is unusual for Shirley to race down the left wing, drive to the face-off dot and get off a shot. It isn’t a move seen a whole lot these days, what with puck-carriers often prone to just throwing it to the front of the net.
“I like coming down that side,” Shirley said. “It’s something I’ve always worked on and wanted to get better at . . . just shooting the puck. I talked to Don about it. Good things happen when you put pucks on net, so it’s something we’ve talked about and it’s coming naturally now.”
On Wednesday night, Shirley got the game-winner from the right side when he chose not to go wide and drive to the net. Rather, he stayed well off the boards and was able to fire a shot past goaltender Coleman Vollrath before defender Joe Hicketts could cross over and shut down the play.
Shirley is in his fourth WHL season. He has 101 points, including 55 goals, in 212 regular-season games. The Blazers acquired him from the Ice on Oct. 22, 2013, when they dealt forward Tim Bozon and defenceman Landon Cross for Shirley, defenceman Matt Thomas and three bantam draft picks — a third-rounder in 2014, and first- and fifth-rounders in 2015.
(If you’re wondering, the Blazers selected forward Erik Miller with the 2014 pick. Miller is on the roster now. The 2015 first-round picked went to the Saskatoon Blades in the trade that brought forward Matt Revel to Kamloops. With the fifth-rounder, the Blazers took forward Carson Denomie of Regina.)
Also on Wednesday, the Blazers had right-winger Deven Sideroff back in their lineup. He had missed the season’s first nine games with mononucleosis. Sideroff isn’t close to being his regular self yet, but his speed does give the opposition something else about which to think.
“It’s tough coming back after missing so much hockey,” Shirley said of Sideroff, “but he looked good. He had the puck lots and he was flying around out there so it helped the team out quite a bit. Just to have a guy with some more experience and the player that he is was huge for us. It was nice to have him back.”
Meanwhile, the Hitmen are likely to be a bit surly tonight, considering that they are coming off 5-2 and 5-0 beatings at the hands of the host Prince George Cougars on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
The Hitmen are fighting the injury bug. In Prince George, they were without defenceman Jake Bean and forwards Terrell Draude and Pavel Karnaukhov. As well, defenceman Taylor Sanheim will serve the third of the three-game suspension tonight. Bean, 17, has 14 points in 10 games, including a team-high seven goals. He is the most obvious omission from the roster of the WHL team that will play a touring Russian side in Kelowna and Kamloops on Nov. 9 and 10, respectively.
Defenceman Travis Sanheim — yes, he and Taylor are twins — tops the Hitmen in assists (12) and points (17).
Calgary also has been playing without veteran goaltender Brendan Burke, who is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. The Hitmen have two other goaltenders on the roster, including Kyle Dumba, the younger brother of Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba.
Calgary’s other goaltender, Lasse Petersen, is an interesting story. The 18-year-old is from Denmark. His father, Erik, a longtime player and coach in Denmark, is Canadian; he returned prior to the 2013-14 season to take over as general manager and head coach of the MJHL’s Swan Valley Stampeders. Lasse played four games with the Stampeders in 2013-14 and 14 last season, when he was 3.40, .912.
With the CHL having banned European goaltenders from its teams, it would seem that Petersen, who has played internationally for Denmark, is allowed in because his principle residence is in Canada.
With the Hitmen, Petersen is 3-2-0, 3.13, .879, while Dumba is 1-3-1, 5.79, .832.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. . . . The Blazers trimmed their roster to 24 on Thursday when they dropped F Chasetan Braid, 18, who will remain on their protected list. He is expected to report to the AJHL’s Bonnyville Pontiacs. Braid, who was acquired Oct. 8 from the Saskatoon Blades for a fifth-round pick in the 2017 bantam draft, was pointless in three games. He was a healthy scratch against Victoria. . . . Calgary F Radel Fazleev has been named to the Russian team that will play against the WHL in a series that begins Nov. 9 in Kelowna and Nov. 10 in Kamloops. He’s got 14 points, five of them goals, in 12 games this season. . . .
Tonight is the annual Safeway Breast Cancer Night, with proceeds from a puck toss going to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. . . . With the Toronto Blue Jays in Kansas City to meet the Royals in Game 6 of the ALCS, the Sandman Centre doors are to open at 4:45 p.m., with the game to be shown on the scoreboard and TV sets on the concourse. They’ll also be selling $2 hotdogs until 6 p.m. . . . Every one of the 3,136 fans in attendance for Wednesday’s victory is eligible for a free ticket to the Blazers’ next Wednesday home game. That will be Oct. 28 with Prince George here. It’s all part of the Blazers’ Winning Wednesday promotion. . . . The Blazers have six Wednesday home games remaining. . . . Wednesday’s crowd was the third-smallest in the history of the arena, which opened for 1992-93. . . . F Brendan Semchuk of Kamloops sat out the Vancouver Giants’ practice on Thursday and is questionable for tonight’s game against the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds.
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 Ken Babey, the head coach of Canada’s national sledge team.