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Thread: Bonner on losing season and looking ahead

  1. #1

    Post Bonner on losing season and looking ahead

    By Marty Hastings

    Cheerless faces and wistful voices told the story at Interior Savings Centre, where the Kamloops Blazers held exit meetings on Sunday, March 22.

    The 2014-2015 Blazers failed to qualify for the WHL post-season, marking the first time in franchise history that has happened in consecutive seasons.

    “It’s very disappointing to miss the playoffs,” general manager Craig Bonner told Kamloops This Week (KTW).

    “No one around here is satisfied.”

    The Blazers finished ninth in the Western Conference, losing two of three games against the Prince George Cougars in the last week of the season to seal their fate. Kamloops finished with a record of 28-37-4-3, doubling its win total from the 2013-2014 campaign, when the team posted its worst record ever — 14-53-2-3.

    “We made some pretty significant strides from last year,” Bonner said. “We had a good start, but November to Christmas wasn’t good and what really killed us was our road record. You have to win on the road to make the playoffs.”

    The Blazers were 8-23-3-2 in games away from ISC.

    Head coach Don Hay was hired last spring and his return to the Tournament Capital brought with it great optimism.

    He inherited one of the league’s youngest teams and pushed it to the brink of the playoffs, an impressive feat considering the Blazers limped into the Christmas break and looked destined to languish in the conference basement.

    Still, by Hay’s own admission, finishing shy of the post-season means falling short of the team’s goal.

    “We feel that when you make the playoffs, you gain a lot of experience in a playoff series and the process you go through to make the playoffs is very important, too,” Hay said.

    “We showed improvement, development and growth but, at the end of the day, we didn’t find the consistency we needed and we’re still disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs.”

    Critics will point to inconsistent drafting as reason in part for the lack of success in Kamloops over the past two seasons.

    “Our 1996-born draft [in 2011] wasn’t good,” said Bonner, whose been at the team’s helm since 2008.

    “From myself through our scouting staff, we recognize that. We made some bad choices and there’s no way to skirt around that.

    “You live and learn as you go. We all make mistakes. That was the one year that hurt us this year and it’s going to hurt us next year.”

    There are no players remaining on the roster from the 2011 draft.

    If Bonner, director of player personnel Matt Recchi and the scouting staff deserve criticism for drafting errors, they should also be commended for listing and signing players who contributed last season and look to have bright futures.

    “That’s the flip side,” Bonner said. “When you make some mistakes in the draft, it’s critical to find some free agents to make up for those mistakes.”

    Goaltender Connor Ingram, 17, was listed in September of 2013 and brought into camp last summer after an impressive midget season with the Prince Albert Mintos.

    He became the No. 1 guy in Kamloops after 20-year-old Bolton Pouliot was shipped to Portland in October.

    Ingram followed an up-and-down first half by posting stellar numbers from January onward — 15-10-1-1, with a 2.69 goals against average and .914 save percentage — to lock up the starting job.

    Summerland product Deven Sideroff, a 17-year-old forward, is another list player who made a name for himself in 2014-2015, recording 17 goals and 42 points.

    In NHL Central Scouting’s 2015 mid-term draft rankings, released in January, Sideroff was listed 110th among North American skaters and Ingram 33rd among goalies on the continent.

    How the Blue and Orange’s 20-year-old situation shakes down next fall is anyone’s guess.

    Defencemen Marc McNulty, Michael Fora and Ryan Rehill and forwards Cole Ully, Matt Needham and Luke Harrison will be over-age next season.

    “I’m not going to be naive and think that we’re going to get them all back, but I honestly can tell you I think there’s an opportunity we will have a choice of all six of those guys,” Bonner said.

    Kamloops can keep only three over-age players.

    Ully, who was drafted and signed by the NHL’s Dallas Stars, had an outstanding season, leading the Blazers in goals (34), assists (60) and points (94).

    Whether he returns or plays pro will have a major impact on the Blazers’ forward group in 2015-2016.

    “We built a foundation, if you can call it that, and the guys will be more comfortable under Don next year,” Ully said.

    “The way we started playing at the end of the year shows the potential we have.”

    Jake Kryski, Quinn Benjafield and Jermaine Loewen made strides in 2014-2015 and will be expected to play bigger roles next season as 17-year-olds.

    “That whole 16-year-old age group on the team, and guys not on the team in midget [including Phillip Knies and Garrett Pilon], it could be a real special group,” Bonner said.

    “We’ve got some size, we’ve got some grit and we’ve got some skill.”

    The Blazers are high on Knies, the Phoenix product they drafted in the fourth round in 2013, but his return to Kamloops is no guarantee.

    “His family and agent are going to wait for the season to end and go from there,” Bonner said, noting Knies is putting up great numbers playing midget in Colorado.

    “He’s got some college offers. It’s 50-50.”

    Nick Chyzowski and Jesse Zaharichuk showed improvement late in the campaign and are expected to compete for ice time in their 18-year-old seasons.

    Collin Shirley and Matt Revel will be relied on to produce as 19-year-old veterans next season.

    Shirley was a bright spot in 2014-2015, finishing third in team scoring with 42 points, 26 of them goals.

    Captain Needham was an anchor, posting a plus-31 rating to lead the team in that category and finishing second in scoring with 76 points, 25 of them goals.

    Logan McVeigh and Joel Hamilton are the graduating forwards.

    There are plenty of questions to be answered on the blue line.

    Rehill was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2014 and McNulty by the Detroit Red Wings in 2013, but neither are under contract.

    “We did have a better season than last year, but it’s still unacceptable, us not making the playoffs,” Rehill said.

    “I’ve grown up here with the team and with the guys and made so many friendships and relationships with coaches and teammates and [Blazers’ trainer Colin] Toledo [Robinson]. I would be pretty upset to not play here next year.”

    Fora was listed 114th in the mid-term draft rankings. If he is picked in June, he might be returned to the Blazers.

    The Swiss import was selected 66th overall and 18-year-old D-man Patrik Maier of Slovakia was picked sixth overall in the CHL Import Draft in July.

    Maier turned out to be serviceable and the Blazers seem to have found a gem in 16-year-old Dawson Davidson, who joined the team in December and was playing in critical situations down the stretch.

    Travis Verveda and Cam Reagan, both 17-year-old rearguards, did not see much action.
    Blazers' head coach Don Hay.

    “As harsh as this sounds, there’s a simple theory I have — play better,” Bonner said. “Dawson Davidson came in and took their ice time. The harsh reality in hockey is when you get your chance, you’ve got to take it.

    “In fairness to those guys, we were basically in a playoff atmosphere for the last two months. We were not in development mode.

    “They didn’t get a real opportunity.”

    With its first two picks in the 2014 bantam draft, Kamloops selected defencemen Nolan Kneen third overall and Conner McDonald 24th overall.

    The North Shore Winter Club products will push for roster spots next season.

    Brady Gaudet is the lone graduating defenceman.

    Between the pipes, 16-year-old Dylan Ferguson and 17-year-old Cole Kehler will likely compete for the back-up job behind Ingram at training camp in August and throughout the pre-season.

    “The ownership, the management, the coaching staff and the players, we want to become a winning organization,” Hay said.

    “We grew in a lot of different areas and development doesn’t happen as quick as you want it to. If we stay the course, the fans will see more success from our group.”

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2006


    Trade ya Bonners - We'll take back Craig and you can have Scott and I'll even throw in their Dad and our player development whatsit Ripplinger. Hell of a deal!

  3. #3

    Post Kamloops draft

    From 2011:

    1st Round - 4th Overall D – Jordan Thomson (3 seasons in WHL with Blazers, Blades & Broncos)
    LW Ryan Gropp & D Joe Hicketts (both from Kamloops) were picked soon after

    3rd Round - 50th Overall D - Connor Clouston (2 seasons in WHL with Blazers & Warriors)
    D Riley Stadel was the next pick, and LW John Quenneville went soon after

    4th Round - 72nd LW - Mitch Friesen (2 seasons in WHL with Blazers)

    5th Round - 95th LW - Rylan Freed (playing with Dauphin Kings MJHL)
    C Brett Pollock

    6th Round - 120th RW - Evan Tordiff
    7th Round - 138th D - Connor Hamonic (played with Winkler Flyers MJHL)
    7th Round - 145th C - Jesse Shynkaruk (2 seasons in WHL with Blazers & Warriors)
    8th Round - 160th LW - Kyler Nachtigall (playing with Brooks Bandits AJHL)
    9th Round - 182nd G - Liam McLeod (playing with Grande Prairie Storm AJHL)
    9th Round - 189th LW - Eric Krienke (1 season in WHL with Blazers, playing with Okotoks Oilers AJHL)
    9th Round - 195th D - Riley Hummitsch
    D Layne Viveiros

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