Kamloops Blazers Season Preview
(Last year’s stats in parenthesis)
Roster Breakdown: The Blazers roster currently sits at 25 players (2 goaltenders, 7 defensemen and 16 forwards). The roster includes 12 players selected in the WHL Bantam Draft, six players from the free agent list, five players via trade, and two players selected from the CHL Import Draft. The roster breakdown by region includes nine from B.C., eight players from Alberta, three from Saskatchewan, two from Manitoba, two from Switzerland and one from the USA. There are 17 WHL veterans on the roster and eight WHL rookies. Four of those rookies spent time with the Blazers throughout the regular season and playoffs last season.
Key Returnees: F Tim Bozon, F Cole Ully, F Matt Needham, F Chase Souto, D Sam Grist, D Landon Cross, G Taran Kozun
Key Losses: F Colin Smith, F Brendan Ranford, F JC Lipon, F Kale Kessy, F Dylan Willick, D Tyler Hansen, D Joel Edmundson, D Marek Hrbas, G Cole Cheveldave
New Faces: Forward Tyson Ness (19+20=39) was acquired this week from the Red Deer Rebels to fill a 20-year-old void. Tristan Sieben (6+9=15) was acquired by the Blazers from the Vancouver Giants and will be expected to build on his offensive numbers. Four 17-year-old forwards will be looking to establish themselves up front as Eric Krienke (9th round, 2011), Jesse Shynkaruk (7th round, 2011), Mitch Lipon (List Player) and Nathan Looysen (List Player) will all have an opportunity to contribute. Lipon and Shynkaruk both finished in the Top 10 in scoring in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League last season. Looysen was a point a game player in Junior B last year as a 16-year-old. Nick Chyzowski is the lone 16-year-old on the roster. On defence, Connor Clouston (3rd round, 2011) and Edson Harlacher (55th overall, CHL Import Draft 2013) are both entering their first seasons in the WHL. Both defenders stand at 6’3” and will have opportunity to play every night. Goaltender Bolton Pouliot will likely push Taran Kozun as the 19-year-olds will battle it out to see who gets the starts in goal.
Who to Watch: Cole Ully (22+28=50) is looking to establish himself as an elite WHL talent this year. He is capable of doing it alongside the likes of Tim Bozon (36+55=91) and fellow 18-year-old Matt Needham (12+22=34). Nathan Looysen (List Player) was an unknown prior to arriving to Kamloops but has shown he has the talent and intelligence to become an impact player someday. Aspen Sterzer (2+5=7) is coming off a significant injury that limited him to only 31 games last season. Sterzer is now into his third season with the Blazers and brings it game in and game out. Look for some increased offense to follow the 19-year-old this season with increased responsibilities.
On defence, the Blazers have a trio of NHL Draft Eligible defensemen that all bring different dynamics to the table. Jordan Thomson (2+12=14) is now 17 and entering his second season with the Blazers. He will be in the line-up every night and play in all situations. Look for Thomson to have some growing pains early on, but show improvement as he gets accustomed to playing all the time. Edson Harlacher (55th overall, 2013 Import Draft) is a big mobile defenseman at 6’3” and 185lbs. The Switzerland native has looked poised and steady in WHL preseason games. Ryan Rehill (0+3=3) was the Blazers’ most improved player over last season. The rugged defender is hard to play against every night and his game is prided on shutting down the opponents’ top scorers.
Behind the Bench: The Blazers go into the season with a change behind the bench as Dave Hunchak has been promoted to Head Coach. Hunchak is a veteran of the WHL entering his 10th season after previously coaching in Swift Current and Moose Jaw. Hunchak will have a familiar face beside him as Mark Ferner was hired as the team’s Associate Coach. Ferner also has a lot of experience at this level most recently as the Head Coach of the Everett Silvertips. Ferner also coached the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL to two consecutive National Championships. Ferner also has experience as an Assistant Coach with the Vancouver Giants and Kamloops Blazers. Hunchak and Ferner will be complemented by former Head Coach Guy Charron who has decided to step back and is now the Advisor to Hockey Operations. Charron will aid in practices and development after spending the past three and a half seasons as the Head Coach. Mike Needham returns as the part-time Skills Coach for a third season and Goaltender Coach Dan De Palma returns for a fifth season with the Blazers.
Forwards: The Kamloops Blazers offensive leaders have changed as the Blazers have returned four of their top eight scorers from last season. Tim Bozon (36+55=91) will be expected to lead the way without Colin Smith and JC Lipon returning. Cole Ully (22+28=50), Matt Needham (12+22=34) and Chase Souto (15+16=31) will be thrust into an offensive role this season. Ully’s 50-point output last season got him drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 5th round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Needham is entering his 18-year-old season as well and has posted 69 points over the past two seasons. Chase Souto is the longest tenured Blazer playing in 179 games over the past three seasons. Tyson Ness (19+20=39) also joins that group of players expected to score for the Blazers after being acquired from Red Deer. Joe Kornelsen, (3+9=12) Aspen Sterzer, (2+5=7) Tristan Sieben (6+9=15) and Aaron Macklin (1+3=4) make up the supporting cast for the Blazers. Mitch Friesen (0+1=1) is entering his second season and should have a chance to prove himself this year. There will be plenty of opportunity for the young forwards on the Blazers roster as Jesse Shynkaruk, Eric Krienke, Nathan Looysen and Mitch Lipon are all 17-year-olds looking to prove themselves. Nick Chyzowski is the lone 16-year-old on the roster.
Overall, the Blazers have some turnover up front but have some reliable returnees who are wanting the opportunity to be counted on. This group should be capable of carrying the offensive load this season.
Defensemen: On defence, the Blazers have some young players who will need to take on a bigger role this year. 20-year-old Sam Grist (5+18=23) and 19-year-old Landon Cross (1+15=16) are the steady veterans both entering their third WHL seasons. They will need to lead the young back end. A pair of 18-year-olds in Ryan Rehill (0+3=3) and Josh Connolly (1+5=6) will be put in a position to succeed. Connolly will likely get every opportunity on the power play, while Rehill will be counted on to kill penalties and shut down the opponents’ top players. A trio of 17-year-olds are all looking to establish themselves this season. Jordan Thomson (2+12=14) will be in the line-up every night and will need to play in all situations. Edson Harlacher was selected by the Blazers in the import draft and he has shown he has the tools to be a solid defender. Connor Clouston (1+0=1) spent some time with the Blazers last year and has shown he can contribute.
Overall, the Blazers will need to play good defence by committee. There are no stalwarts among the seven defenders on the roster. As a group, each defender brings a different dynamic which will create a good balance on the back end.
Goaltenders: A change in the guard will happen this year as the Blazers chose to focus on the youth by trading 20-year-old goaltender Cole Cheveldave in exchange for highly touted prospect Jake Kryski. Taran Kozun (11-4-1-2, 2.36, .914) has been left to pick up the slack after spending last season as the back-up behind Cheveldave. Kozun had terrific numbers last season and will be expected to take the reins. 16-year-old goaltender Cole Kehler played well in two WHL preseason games but was sent to Okanagan Hockey Academy for the season. Kehler is the goaltender of the future and will need to get plenty of playing time rather than being the back-up for the Blazers this season. To replace Kehler, the Blazers brought in 19-year-old Bolton Pouliot (5-10-0-2, 3.60, .902) from Red Deer. Pouliot is a two year WHL veteran who had has had respectable numbers but has been stuck behind the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year in Patrik Bartosak. Pouliot will now have the opportunity here in Kamloops as the starting job will be determined by the play of both Pouliot and Kozun. Expect both Kozun and Pouliot to push each other for starts this season with both goaltenders looking to be the number one guy between the pipes.
Prognosis: The Blazers made some significant strides the past two seasons putting up back-to-back 47-20-2-3 records, winning a B.C. Division title, and making it to the Western Conference Final last season before bowing out to the WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks. The Blazers have developed a lot of pro players the past two seasons which has left the hockey club with a younger squad. The Blazers are likely to be in the middle of the pack this season. Expect this hockey club to continue playing to the identity they’ve created over the past few seasons as a hard-working team.