The Kamloops Blazers are preparing for their final two home-ice appearances before Christmas.
The Blazers will entertain the Portland Winterhawks at the Sandman Centre tonight (Friday) and the Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday. After that, they won’t appear at home until Dec. 27 when the Kelowna Rockets come calling.
In between, the Blazers will make a six-game foray into the East Division that begins Dec. 11 in Saskatoon against the Blades.
But first it’s the Winterhawks, who no doubt will be in something of a surly frame of mind after having been swept (3-2, 5-3) by the host Prince George Cougars in a Tuesday-Wednesday doubleheader.
The Winterhawks, who were blanked 2-0 by the visiting Vancouver Giants before departing for Prince George, now are 12-13-0. That has them in eighth spot in the 10-team Western Conference, three points behind the Blazers. Kamloops (12-9-3) is three points behind the sixth-place Everett Silvertips.
The WHL’s playoff format includes two wild-card spots in each conference. At the moment, Kamloops and Portland are in possession of those spots in the Western Conference.
The Blazers are coming off a fairly routine 5-1 victory over the struggling Kootenay Ice on Tuesday night. The key goal in that one likely came off the stick of Kamloops centre Gage Quinney, who struck while shorthanded, giving his side a 3-1 lead at 10:07 of the second period. It was Quinney’s 12th goal this season and his fourth while shorthanded. Only Prince
George forward Jesse Gabrielle has more (5).
“He really anticipates,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said of the 20-year-old Quinney, “and he’s got a good stick. He knocks down a lot of pucks. he gets his stick on a lot of pucks. He reads it really well.”
Quinney has 31 points in 21 games this season; since the Blazers acquired him from Kelowna, he has 24 points, including 10 goals, in 16 games. (All four of his shorthanded goals have been scored with the Blazers.)
The Winterhawks, who are 5-6-0 on the road, have been without two of their top forwards, although Alex Schoenborn may return tonight or Saturday in Kelowna. Keegan Iverson likely is out until after the Christmas break. Both are veterans who bring grit, some scoring punch and experience to the Portland lineup.
On Saturday, Medicine Hat, 1-7-2 away from home, will be playing its fourth game in five nights. The Tigers were beaten 3-1 by the Royals in Victoria on Tuesday and then dropped a 6-0 decision to the Giants in Vancouver on Wednesday. Medicine Hat will play in Kelowna tonight.
The Tigers also lost Steve Owre, one of their top forwards, to an undisclosed injury in Victoria. With 24 points in as many games, Owre was their second-leading scorer.
Only F Chad Butcher, who is from Kamloops, has more points for them. Butcher, in his fourth season with the Tigers, has 29 points, including nine goals, in 25 games. In 187 regular-season games, he has 111 points, 37 of them goals.
When this weekend is over the Blazers will have played 17 home games — they are 9-4-2 — and only nine on the road (3-5-1). That eastern swing will help even up those numbers, of course. The Blazers are 7-0-2 at home since losing 4-2 to the Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 23.
JUST NOTES: The game against Portland is Food Bank Night, with fans asked to bring a non-perishable food item or cash donation in support of the Kamloops Food Bank. . . . On Saturday, it’s the annual Teddy Bear Toss. Bring a small stuffed toy or a piece of winter wear to toss onto the ice when the Blazers score their first goal. . . . The Blazers may have D Dallas Valentine back in the lineup tonight. He has missed six games with an undisclosed injury. . . . Last season, the Blazers beat the Winterhawks 6-2 and 4-1 in Kamloops. . . . This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. . . . The Winterhawks have added F Tanner Nagel, 17, from the SJHL’s Battlefords North Stars. He has played three games with Portland. . . . With the injuries, Portland F Cody Glass, a first-round selection in the 2014 bantam draft, is getting a chance to show his stuff. He has moved up to a line with Rihards Bukarts, who was acquired last month from the Brandon Wheat Kings, and freshman Rodrigo Abols. Glass is from Winnipeg; the other two are Latvians. . . . The Tigers didn’t play in Kamloops last season. But the Blazers lost twice, 7-3 and 5-1, in Medicine Hat.