It is to be hoped that followers of the Kamloops Blazers weren’t at all surprised when LW Cole Ully began letting folks know that he doesn’t plan on returning for his 20-year-old season.
Ully, who is from Calgary, was selected by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round of the NHL’s 2013 draft. He has signed with the Stars; in fact, after the Blazers belly-flopped last season, he got into a couple of games with Dallas’s AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, who play out of Cedar Park.
Ully earned one assist in two games with Texas, then returned home to Calgary where he had his tonsils removed. Not wanting to lose weight, Ully forced himself to eat through the pain. Four weeks later, out came his wisdom teeth. Yes, he has had a summer not worth remembering, at least to this point.
But after four seasons with the Blazers, there isn’t anything left for Ully to prove in the WHL. He put up 237 points, 95 of them goals, in 256 regular-season games. Last season, he was simply marvellous, recording 94 points, including 34 goals, in 69 games with a non-playoff team.
Ully won’t be in the Blazers’ training camp later this month as he plans to go straight to Texas. If all goes according to plan, he will be on the roster of the Dallas team that plays in the annual preseason tournament in Traverse City, Mich. It opens on Sept. 11.
The Blazers, meanwhile, were offensively challenged last season when they missed the playoffs for a second time in a row. Ully and linemate Matt Needham, who had 76 points, were the only skaters with at least 43 points.
Not only are they likely to lose Ully, but Michael Fora, their best defenceman over the last half of the season, won’t be back, either. As a 20-year-old European — he is from Switzerland — he would have been a two-spotter but might have been worth it. Instead, he’s going to play professionally with HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland’s NL A.
Other than Needham, who will play a fifth season in Kamloops, the top returning scorer will be forwards Collin Shirley, 19, and Deven Sideroff, 18, both of whom are coming off 42-point seasons.
Needham, the captain, will fill one of the 20-year-old spots, with the others going perhaps to F Luke Harrison and D Marc McNulty. McNulty was a sixth-round selection by the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL’s 2013 draft, but he wasn’t signed so has more than a little bit to prove.
Also eligible as a 20-year-old is D Ryan Rehill, but after three seasons of banging heads at this level, perhaps the New Jersey Devils, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft, will find a spot for him somewhere in their organization.
Regardless of who is on the ice, this is a tremendously important season for the Blazers. This is a team that went from community ownership to private ownership prior to the 2007-08 season. Since then, in eight seasons, the Blazers have won more than 33 games just twice. In the last two seasons, they are 42-90-12.
The Blazers can hardly afford another season without playoff games.
In 2006-07, the last season of community ownership, they were eighth in the WHL in attendance, at 4,787 fans per game. The next season, under private ownership, they were ninth, at 4,562. Last season, the Blazers were 15th, at 3,994, and there were many nights when there weren’t nearly that many people in Interior Savings Centre.
Whatever happens, though, it isn’t likely that Ully will be a part of it. Fans of the Blazers will have to be content remembering a player who never took a night off.
F Mike Hammond (Kelowna, 2006-07) signed a one-year contract with Löwen Frankfurt (Germany, DEL2). Last season, as an alternate captain with Lakehead Univeristy (CIS), he had 39 points, including 15 goals, in 27 games. He led Lakehead in goals, assists and points. He was named an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West first-team all-star and also the OUA West’s most sportsmanlike player. . . . In Frankfurt, Hammond will be reunited with head coach Tim Kehler, for whom he played with the BCHL’s Salmon Arm SilverBacks. . . .
F Martin Tomášek (Red Deer, 1996-97) signed a tryout contract with Kop?ivnice (Czech Republic, 2. Liga). Last season, he had six goals and seven assists in 18 games with Neuilly-sur-Marne (France, Division 1).
F Michael Spacek is preparing to go to training camp with the Red Deer Rebels later this month. Spacek, from Marianske Lazne, Czech Republic, was selected by the Rebels in the CHL’s 2015 import draft. . . . He is in Calgary this week with the Czech U-20 team that is playing exhibition games against Canada and Russia. . . . Spacek was a fourth-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL’s 2015 draft. . . . Brent Sutter, the Rebels’ general manager and head coach, told Troy Gillard of Red Deer radio station 106.7 The Drive on Wednesday that he has a commitment from Spacek.
F Liam Stewart has signed with the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks. Stewart, who played out his eligibility with the Spokane Chiefs last season, played two games with the ECHL’s Quad City Mallards at the end of 2014-15. . . . He had one goal in two playoff games with the Mallards. . . . In 71 games with the Chiefs last season, he had 53 points, including 25 goals. In 251 regular-season WHL games, Stewart had 132 points, 57 of them goals.
F Dominic Zwerger of the Spokane Chiefs will play for Austria in a U-20 Super Challenge tournament in Karlstad, Sweden, later this month. The tournament runs Aug. 19-23. Also on the Austrian team are F Florian Baltram of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and F Dario Winkler of the Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . Zwerger, 19, is preparing for his third season in Spokane. . . . Baltram, 18, was acquired by Lethbridge from the Seattle Thunderbirds midway through last season. . . . Winkler, 18, was selected by Brandon in the CHL’s 2015 import draft. . . . The Super Challenge also includes the Zurich Lions, Red Bull Salzburg, Färjestad BK and Norway.
F Simon Stransky of the Prince Albert Raiders will play for his native Czech Republic in a U-20 4 Nations tournament that opens today and runs through Sunday at Chomutov, Czech Republic. . . . Also in the tournament are teams from Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland. . . . Stransky and his Czech teammates opened a training camp in Chomutov on Sunday. . . . Stransky is preparing for his second season with the Raiders.
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