3.Kamloops Blazers-Aside from a small blip on the radar in 2012-2013 that saw J.C Lipon and Colin Smith carry the Blazers to the conference final, it's been wide spread mediocrity for nearly fifteen years. Don Hay who returned to the Blazers in mid 2014 after being the one that was the general during their early to mid nineties dynasty. When the Blazers were struggling with prolonged playoff appearances, the problem I was noticing that was that coaches such as Dean Clark and Guy Charron were unwilling to provide substantial ice time for some of the younger players. Two players stand out like a sore thumb in this analogy and those are Jordan Rowley and Alex Rodgers. Both Rowley and Rodgers were seen as having intriguing potential when they entered the Western Hockey League but both were never allowed to strut their stuff in Kamloops as the mandate was to squeak into the post-season and nothing else. In the case of Rodgers,it's no coincidence that the second he departed Kamloops and moved to Prince George that his personal statistics skyrocketed accumulating sixty one points. It's all about opportunity, or the lack there of in some of these younger players cases hovered around the 'Loops until Don Hay came back on board. Hay was very clear from the onset that if he was going to correct the wrongs, that he was going to do this right, no more of this acquiring veterans at the sake of barely landing in the playoffs. Patience was now going to be advocated and at no surprise over the last two seasons you've seen more rampant progression and if wasn't for a ridiculous goaltending performance from Kelowna Rocket Michael Herringer, who knows how prosperous the 2015-2016 playoff run would've been. The Blazers at least from this bloggers eyes enter this campaign as the clear Western Conference favourites and it really starts from between the pipes with Connor Ingram. Not to give away spoilers but injuries would be the only way where I don't declare Ingram as the goaltender of the year.
The Kamloops Blazers administration has had relative success with Europeans in the past while. Look at this crop they've currently assembled, Ondrej Vala is back for another year along with newly acquired Latvian Rudolf Balcers. and Balcers comes into this season with high expectations. For an organization that is on the brink of doing something special, it's as of no surprise that they went in the direction of an accomplished nineteen year old in this past summer's Import Draft. Rudolfs who played on Latvia's division one World Junior entry was a dominant force, easily their best player and that provides me room for optimism for where he could fit within the top six forwards. The truth about the Blazers forward formation is that they have a plethora of "grinders" but aren't endowed with many pure playmakers and that's where Balcers will come handy. My only viewings of Balcers were at the aforementioned Division 1 Junior championships and although the calibre of competition isn't great, the most apt way to compare is saying that it's similar to what you would see out of most WHL second lines but that's alright because the biggest takeaway from the event was that he played with no fear and would sacrifice anything to make a play. I'm skimming the projected depth chart and am curious on where he could best utilized and after careful consideration I've come to the belief that he could be the most effective on the left side with Garrett Pilon. Pilon and Matt Revel inevitably will be the top two centers for this club and because Revel favours the pass moreso then the shot I maintain that Rudolf would be better equipped dishing off the rubber to Garrett. A 1A/1B combination involving Revel/Shirley and Balcers/Pilon would balance the attack for Don Hay. Revel's game has been filled with inconsistencies but with newly minted captain Collin Shirley riding shot gun to Matt, one of the league's most revered snipers should hide any transgressions in Revels game. With Garrett Pilon, Id find the partnership with Balcers captivating. Unless I'm way out to lunch, the backend of this group is its identity so by saying that somebody such as Garrett holds high importance. Garrett is destined for a break-out season, not withstanding the fact that I anticipate his linemate being Rudolf but he's that one guy entering his eighteen year old season coming off a summer where the Washington Capitals showed enough confidence in his abilities by selecting him in the third round that could take the bulls by the horn and before you know it may tally a eighty point + season. I'm not exactly sure for why he wasn't in the league at sixteen, assuming the body needed to physically mature but as a rookie in 15/16, he displayed a disposition of always being in the right areas in the defensive zone, it doesn't hurt growing up watching your NHL father Rich(granted he was three when Rich retired) and was able to pick up on tendencies on how to approach situations when their's a size mismatch and how to spin off to create an advantage something the elder Pilon did masterfully. It's amazing that for how aware he is in securing his assignments that he can quickly engage in the rush and become a formidable scoring threat. He gets down real low and trucks up the ice. Not the most talented individual but it goes to show what a little hard work can amount to as Garrett blossomed with the Saskatoon Contacts of Midget AAA and didn't miss a beat at the Major Junior Level. I alluded to the patience of Don Hay in the opening and that aforementioned patience defines the handling of Pilon. Whatever the reasons were for his extra year in Midget, chalk it up to another Don Hay doozie. I also spoke to the fact that he would be assured a top two center role, likely the second line but someone that will conceivably grind away on the fourth line is Carson Denomie. A later round gander in 2014, Denomie was able to score at will in Bantam Hockey playing in his hometown of Regina but when the transition was made to Midget AAA, the scoring wasn't as accessible for Carson but he developed a predilection for killing penalties, something as a fringe fourth liner he'll asked upon as seeing power play time on a team expected to compete for a championship isn't realistic. A tremendous skater with a pre-conceived nose for the net. I can guarantee Denomie will be in and out of the lineup, and if an impact transaction is made I could see him getting re-assigned back to Midget. An impact transaction would be advisable as this club is genuinely one upper echelon forward away from being the conference favourite. I doubt the Victoria Royals would consider making Tyler Soy available but if so, that's the piece Kamloops is missing.
No worries, none whatsoever. Just by proximity of depth, you'll see a lot of 2-1,, 3-2 victories because this defence is about as stout as they come. Let's call a spade a spade by saying that most nights this group will put you to sleep, and that is not intended to be an insult whatsoever, it's just the observation that this back end is filled with stoic, stay at home defenceman. Normally I would advocate that the management group go searching for a natural puck mover, but just like in show business when they say its imperative you know your crowd, in building a hockey team you must understand the complexion of your team and because they have rock solid tender Connor Ingram backing up this already elite core they know sacrificing offence for a bunch of Bryan Marchment types(apologies go out to those that viewed Marchment as a point producer). Let's first embark on the player profile of Moosomin, Saskatchewan product Dawson Davidson. Other then the Blazer I will profile next who I absolutely think has NHL stardom upside, Dawson is as close to a safe bet to flourish professionally as their is. I think a player like Dawson, and this definitely is nothing new came into the league expecting to contribute offensively but what a lot of players don't bargain for is that this league is a different animal and just because you were a mainstay at a lower level, case in point for Dawson, doesn't mean that's type of player you need to be or that your coaching staff necessarily wants you to be. Dawson is and always has been an excellent skater and what's he learned in his year and a half in Kamloops that taking care of your own end singularly translates into offensive opportunities as the the thirty nine points he tallied astonished me. Those that have closely followed Davidson's career when examining his numbers won't be shocked to read that 33 of the 39 points were helpers as he's an exquisite passer of the puck. I'm not here though to repeat what the majority who are privy to Western Hockey League happenings already knew, a part of his repertoire that most will not be familiar with is his penchant battle with players much bigger then he is. Luckily for the coaching staff Dawson grew marginally between 14/15 and 15.16 and now he can comfortably handle his own in front of the net. I remember watching a game last year where Kamloops was taking on the Vancouver Giants, and there was a point in the game where the Blazers were pinned in deep, Dawson was on the ice and notorious power forward Tyler Benson was going to work along the boards. After a couple twists and turns behind the net, Dawson created an angle where he was able to cut in front of Tyler and muscle the puck off his stick. A couple of years ago, this simply wouldn't of been possible so partial credit goes out to the Blazer conditioning staff for providing him the proper training regimen. The last note I had regarding Dawson, after watching a series called the "Blazer Report" that I stumbled upon to via YouTube, it doesn't take long to notice he;s a happy go lucky guy that has a great passion for the game of hockey and I don't think I'm out on a limb when I proclaim that we could be assessing the team captain in 2017/2018. Okay Blazer fans, and I really could've started a whole new paragraph parlaying the excitement I have with this next Blazer, Nolan Kneen. He's a polarizing figure out on the ice and to those who cover the daily beat as he provides virtually no scoring prowess but once again need I remind you that his skill set meshes admirably because they're not looking for somebody who can tear apart a stat sheet. The gosh darn analytical statisticians will have a field day with Nolan because he doesn''t shoot the puck, in fact I'm unsure if he's shot a puck since Peewee hockey. Okay so maybe that was a slight exaggeration but the intensity he brings with him to the rink is unprecedented. He reminds me of, and now I'm just name dropping at no end, of a young Colton Teubert which yes when we recollect how Teubert's career played out this is not exactly the most flattering comparison but the reason why I bring up Colton's name because he took no prisoners and dished out big hit after big hit, a trademark of young Nolan's game. As I've mentioned far too many times already, just keeping the puck out of his own net will be the mandate and if you. Adjustments for rookies, now a second year player can be daunting but from the people that I talk to, the game of his never changes, From the get go, their was no fear, from opening night of his rookie season he interjected a level of physical intimidation that frankly you just don't see out of sixteen year olds. If I was a player, and my humour is in full display here, I wouldn't be too keen getting close to Kneen! For an overall summarization, when Don Hay has a defence at his disposal that includes Davidson, Kneen Ondrej Vala and Joe Gatenby the only difficult job he'll face is allocating enough ice time to keep all of these youngsters satisfied. Buckle up Kamloops you could be in for an extended playoff run,
The superlatives that precede goaltender Connor Ingram are endless. I plan to dish out award predictions at the end this preview which is beginning to wind down and unless hell freezes over, Ingram will be named the leagues top goaltender and getting chosen as the Canadian Hockey League's top goalie wouldn't surprise most. When people bring up the name Carter Hart out of Everett, I hear "only reason he puts up the number he does is because of the trap Coach Constantine configures) well to that I call B.S and for the minority that wants to criticize Connor with similar justification, they may as well stop reading this now. Defensive systems aside, it's the flexibility that allows him to stand out. Great blocker, steadily improving glove hand thanks in large part to the tutelage of Goalie coach Dan De Palma. Best Loops goalie since........Devan Dubnyk, or to take it a step further and Blazer historians may cringe, best goaltender in franchise history, even ahead of the great Rod Branch? That' kind of praise shows how highly I think of Ingram.