View Full Version : Final tuneup

09-15-2006, 07:48 PM
Final tuneup goes tonight www.kamloopsnews.com
by Gregg Drinnan

The curtain comes down tonight on the Kamloops Blazers’ exhibition schedule.

And while most of the performers have been selected for the WHL regular-season’s grand opening, there still are two or three spots up for grabs.

The Blazers, who have yet to ice a veteran-laden team this autumn, are 1-4-0-1 in the exhibition season, while the Prince George Cougars, tonight’s visitors, are 4-0-0-0, the last of those victories a 4-1 beating of visiting Kamloops on Wednesday. Game time at the Interior Savings Centre is 7 o’clock.

Dean Clark, the Blazers’ general manager and head coach, didn’t have any 20-year-olds in his lineup Wednesday. The Cougars played three and got goals from two of them.

Clark won’t have any at his disposal again tonight, what with centre Reid Jorgensen (Detroit Red Wings) and defenceman Ray Macias (Colorado Avalanche) still at NHL camps, and right-winger Matt Kassian pondering a minor-league contract (AHL or ECHL) offer from the Minnesota Wild.

Still, it has meant that Clark and his staff have had a good, long look at what is the foundation of the franchise’s rebuilding efforts.

“It is important to get some wins under your belt in any situation,” Clark said after Thursday’s practice at the ATM. “But it was real important for us to evaluate properly and know exactly what we were going to pick for players.

“Moving forward, we have a real good idea of who can and who can’t play for us at this time.”

Clark said his team’s preseason record is perhaps misleading because they have played at times with fewer than 18 skaters.

“For us to be successful,” he said, “we have to be a real hard-working four-line team. Playing with 16 skaters doesn’t really help that.”

Tonight, the Blazers will have a full complement of players.

Anyway, here is a scene-setter going into tonight’s game:

GOAL: After two seasons of playing in the shadow of Devan Dubnyk, Mike Maniago is the starter and he hasn’t done anything in the exhibition season to show that this isn’t his time. He is scheduled to go the distance tonight. . . . Kurt Kramer, 17, and Dalyn Flette, 16, have been scrapping for the backup’s spot and what a fight it has been. Flette, from Calgary, got off to an early lead but Kramer, who is from Richmond, was able to get back in the race. Clark is expected to reveal his decision Monday, but it may have been made in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss in Prince George when Flette started and gave up one goal and Kramer was beaten three times.

DEFENCE: Clark will carry seven or eight defencemen. He will go with eight if one of them is able to fill in up front on occasion. Joel Woznikoski’s ability to do that and his work ethic — he spent some of his summer here working out — hold the 17-year-old in good stead. Kevin Kraus, the 17-year-old Californian, was on his way out of town two weeks ago but a solid showing at the Everett tournament bought him some more time. Sophomore Garrett Thiessen, 17, has struggled in adapting to the new rules so tonight’s game is of utmost importance to him.

Veterans Victor Bartley, Ryan Bender, Keaton Ellerby, Ryan White and Macias, assuming he returns from Colorado, will play a lot, while freshman Jordan Rowley, 16, is the quarterback of the future.

FORWARDS: The forwards who play tonight may well be on the roster when the Blazers open against the visiting Portland Winter Hawks on Sept. 22, although Clark admits that he would like to “add an experienced guy if I could.”

That is why he talked with Lethbridge Hurricanes GM Roy Stasiuk about right-winger Michael Kaye, 19, who was dealt to the Tri-City Americans yesterday.

Jorgensen, who is back skating with Detroit after struggling with a sore groin, will be missing. He is expected to return, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

Jorgensen had 24 goals last season and Brock Nixon added 26. The remaining returnees — Terrance Delaronde (7), Travis Dunstall (3), Kassian (5), Brady Mason (5), Scott Skrudland (2) and C.J. Stretch (5) — totalled 27 goals.

The new kids on the block — Brenden Dowd, Alex Rodgers, Matt Schmermund and Tyler Shattock — all scored last season at the midget AAA or junior A ranks. But will they be able to do it at this level? And how much will they be able to contribute to the offence right now?

The two imports — right-winger Juuso Puustinen and left-winger Ivan Rohac — have shown a lot of promise but the jury is out until the hitting starts for real.

“There are 14 forwards,” Clark said, “but they all shouldn’t (feel too comfortable).”

In a perfect world, he will keep 23 players. That means one goaltender and two others won’t be around much longer. As Clark said, that could be a combination of two defencemen, one defenceman and one forward, or two forwards.