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B E A R ’ CK E W

BLAZERS 2021 SEASON


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WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021

www.kamloopsthisweek.com

BLAZERS ARE BACK

Clouston priming Blazers for season like no other MARTY HASTINGS

STAFF REPORTER

sports@kamloopsthisweek.com

Head coaches in the WHL have unique challenges to face in this truncated 2021 season, which will get underway for B.C. Division clubs on Friday, March 26. Kamloops Blazers’ bench boss Shaun Clouston is navigating a pre-season that is without a legitimate training camp and exhibition games, absent a host of teaching moments and evaluation time that would accompany the lead up to a traditional campaign. Clouston will also be tasked with developing a philosophy for a season that is not likely to culminate with playoffs, a schedule that will include 24 games if uninterrupted by

positive COVID-19 tests. The Blazers completed testing and quarantine requirements before taking to the ice last Thursday, the club’s first time skating together since March 10, 2020, when hometown Spokane blanked Kamloops 3-0. Clouston will be relying heavily on veteran players to take on more prominent teaching roles. “The pace, the structure, the energy — that’s going to be key,” Clouston said. “Really cue those guys up and say, ‘Remember where we want to get to, remember how we want to play,’ so that in practice today, we’re pitching in and helping out.” The roster includes six 16-year-old players — forwards Tye Spencer, Connor Levis, Fraser Minten and Vaughn Watterodt, defenceman Mats Lindgren and

goaltender Dylan Ernst. Forwards Logan Stankoven, Matthew Seminoff, Dylan Sydor and Caedan Bankier and defenceman Logan Bairos make up the 17-year-old contingent. The 18-year-olds are forwards Josh Pillar, Peyton McKenzie, Daylan Kuefler and Reese Belton, defenceman Ethan Brandwood and goaltender Dylan Garand. “There were times where it was tough because you live your whole life playing hockey and that was taken away from you for just about a year,” Kuefler said. “We had lots of Zoom calls, stayed in contact and that was huge for staying motivated and close as a team.” Defencemen Inaki Baragano and Quinn Schmiemann and forward Connor Zary are the 19-year-old trio. Rearguards Sean Strange

and Montana Onyebuchi and forward Orrin Centazzo are the overagers. Everyone has something to play for from an individual standpoint, whether it’s a pro contract, NHL Draft position, favour among brass for the future or any of the carrots that typically dangle throughout a majorjunior season. What has changed is the time frame in which players have to showcase themselves. Clouston does not plan to let that significantly alter the way he approaches deployment. “Your top guys, quite often your older guys, are accepting and taking on more responsibility, with your younger guys slotting in where they eventually deserve to be,” Clouston said. The division champions crowned after a 24-game season

are not likely to carry much clout from a historical standpoint. Clouston pointed out there are other ways to measure team success. “It’s nice to look at the stat book and the record books and those types of thing, but really, that’s all they are,” Clouston said. “They are just a figure, a number, and there will be a little asterisk this year, but to me, it’s really about the experience. “It’s an experience that the vast majority of the people in the world who have regular jobs, they just don’t get. They don’t get to be part of that team where you’re all doing everything you possibly can together to create success. “The competitive nature of the players and coaches will take over and this will be a really great experience.”

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WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021

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B3

Christian talks Blazers’ return MARTY HASTINGS

STAFF REPORTER

sports@kamloopsthisweek.com

Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian has been part of the B.C. Division return-toplay plan, which was approved on March 2 by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. The Blazers, Vancouver Giants and Prince George Cougars will play out of the Kamloops hub, with Sandman Centre as home base. Those travelling with the Cougars and Giants will reside in the Sandman Signature Hotel. The Blazers’ players will stay with billets in Kamloops. In the Kelowna hub, the Rockets and Victoria Royals will play out of Prospera Place. The Royals will stay in a hotel. Kelowna’s players will stay with billets. Clubs are permitted to travel directly between

KEN CHRISTIAN

each hub for game play, with no stops between the two cities. Christian spoke to KTW about a morale-boost for Kamloops, concerns over community transmission and what went on behind the scenes with himself, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and WHL commissioner Ron Robison. KTW: What are your thoughts on the decision to green-light the return-to-play plan? CHRISTIAN: I think it’s excellent. For those athletes, in particular the 20-year-olds and 19-year-olds, it’s almost a season gone. In the way that system works, they need that exposure if they’re going to go on

to the next level and they need to be able to play out their WHL careers if they’re not. This hiatus that we’ve been in is not healthy for anybody and particularly would be difficult for those athletes. The thing that affects me as a resident of Kamloops is getting the Blazers back on the ice and giving us something to hope for and cheer for. KTW: How did you balance concerns with safety in the community and the importance of the return of the Blazers? CHRISTIAN: We were looking at protocols in Sandman Centre and how that would work. Once they [the WHL] were at a place where they felt they had a really solid case together, they put that in front of Mayor Basran and myself. I checked with IHA [Interior Health Authority] people about community

transmission in Kamloops and when would be a good time to get in front of this, in terms of supporting it. Colin wrote to commissioner Robison and so did I. They used those as part of their submission to Dr. Bonnie Henry. That took some time for her to adjudicate those and assess those risks. She came up with the decision and I think it’s the right decision. KTW: There will be concerns over community transmission. The Blazers will be playing against other teams and then going back to stay with their billets in the community. What are your thoughts on that? CHRISTIAN: We can learn from the curling bubble [in Calgary] and the successes in the NHL and the lack of success in the NBA. The more interaction you have with the community, the

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greater the risk is; however, in these communities, particularly in Kelowna and Kamloops, and I think that is perhaps why they’re not in Abbotsford or other places, these communities have relatively low community transmission. There is also an onus on the players. They’re not in the community, going out to the Red Collar or Wendy’s. They’re going to be on a strict teamimposed regimen, in terms of their safety and deport-

ment. The other teams are essentially going to be sequestered in the Sandman Hotel and I believe it’s the Capri Hotel in Kelowna. Those will be the two places where there could be some interaction, but again, the WHL has anticipated that and has requirements in place for those properties. At this stage of the pandemic, this is an opportunity that is, on balance, the right way to go for the communities, the organizations and, in particular, for the kids.

THE KAMLOOPS BLAZERS WILL BEGIN REGULAR SEASON PLAY AGAINST THE VANCOUVER GIANTS ON FRIDAY, MARCH 26, A 7 P.M. START AT SANDMAN CENTRE. NO SPECTATORS WILL BE PERMITTED TO ENTER WHL FACILITIES. FANS CAN TAKE IN ALL THE ACTION ON WHL LIVE ON CHL TV, INCLUDING FREEVIEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR EACH CLUB’S HOME-OPENING GAME.

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B4

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021

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B6

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021

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BLAZERS ARE BACK

Knee injury ends Stuart’s WHL career MARTY HASTINGS

STAFF REPORTER

sports@kamloopsthisweek.com

Brodi Stuart knew something was wrong with his knee last summer, a nagging injury that flared up when he shot from a certain position. The injury worsened, his knee locking during his first ice session after Christmas, and led to surgery on Jan. 20, an operation that effectively ended his WHL career. Forward Orrin Centazzo and defencemen Sean Strange and Montana Onyebuchi are the Blazers’ overagers for the shortened 2021 season. “I was super upset,” said Stuart, the left-shot from Langley who lives in Merritt. “For me, I was super prepared this year. I felt like I was in my

ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW Brodi Stuart will wave goodbye to his WHL career after a stint behind the bench this spring.

best physical shape and, not only that, I felt really mentally

strong and my confidence was there for me to have my best year yet.” Stuart said the surgeon called the injury a buckethandle meniscus tear and the recovery time will be at least three months. The Blazers drafted [Round 4, 2015 WHL Bantam Draft] and developed Stuart, a highly respected player within the organization who has been placed on the injured list and will be kept on in a coaching role for the remainder of the season. Stuart plans to begin his U Sports career in the fall, but has not given up his pursuit of a pro hockey contract. “My mindset coming into this year was I want to have my best year yet and earn that pro contract,” said Stuart, who has

not yet decided on a U Sports school. “It’s definitely upsetting I’m not going to be able to play and do that, but I’m just trying to look at the positive side. There are a lot of good opportunities that come from U Sports. Everything happens for a reason.” Stuart’s first WHL goal was memorable, a third-period marker against the Kelowna Rockets on April 2, 2017, at Sandman Centre that tied the sixth game of a Round 1 playoff series. He spent the entirety of his major-junior career with the Blazers, finishing with 46 goals and 116 points in 205 regular season games, along with two goals and three points in 10 post-season contests. The COVID-19 pandemic

wiped out the finishing stretch of his 19-year-old campaign, with his B.C. Division champion Blazers in position to make a run at a league title. “It’s a weird season in general,” Stuart said. “Everybody is going through something. I’m a firm believer everything happens for a reason.” Stuart is not exactly sure what his coaching role will look like, but he plans to help tutor some of the club’s younger players over the next few months. “I’m super thankful and couldn’t be happier to be here in Kamloops this whole time,” said Stuart, an alternate captain for the past two seasons. “Just with all the friendships I’ve made and experiences and development I’ve had, these are going to be some of the times I’m never going to forget.”

We are excited to have our Blazers back on the ice! There is nothing like Blazers hockey to boost the morale in our community.

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Peter Milobar, MLA Kamloops – North Thompson 618B Tranquille Rd, Kamloops, BC Phone: 250.554.5413 Toll Free: 1.888.299.0805 peter.milobar.mla@leg.bc.ca PeterMilobarKNT/ @PeterMilobar

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WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021

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LET’S GO BLAZERS

B7

STANKOVEN READY TO ‘SKYROCKET’ MARTY HASTINGS

STAFF REPORTER

sports@kamloopsthisweek.com

Logan Stankoven does not need extra motivation. His draft year has been partially ransacked and he wants nothing more than to make a point during this abbreviated season. NHL Central Scouting stoked an already burning fire by giving Stankoven a “B” rating on its players to watch list, projecting he will be selected in either Round 2 or Round 3 of the 2021 NHL Draft. “I don’t like to be a cocky human being, but having that confidence and swagger that I am good enough to potentially be a first-rounder or an A-rated prospect is something I really strive

toward,” said Stankoven, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward from Kamloops who turned 18 on Feb. 26. “That just brings out the hunger in me and makes me want to prove myself to, hopefully, move up in those rankings and just skyrocket.” Stankoven blasted off in the second half of the 20192020 season, tallying 18 goals in 30 games after the Christmas break. The right-shot centre finished the campaign with 48 points in 59 games and was named Western Conference rookie of the year. “Obviously, it’s a big honour to be on the Central Scouting list, but I think I have confidence in myself that I’m able to be with some of those top prospects,” Stankoven said.

“It’s too bad we won’t be able to have a full season, but it’s out of our control,” he said. “The main thing is to stay positive and, hopefully, we’ll have enough games to prove ourselves as a team and, for myself, individually.” Blazers’ star forward Connor Zary was pegged with a “B” rating in October 2019. He finished that month with a league-leading 21 points, good enough for WHL player of the month status, and was upgraded to an “A” prospect. The Calgary Flames picked Zary 24th overall in Round 1 of this year’s NHL Draft. “Zary was in the exact same spot last year,” said Stankoven, who the Blazers nabbed fifth overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.

“He really used that as motivation and that’s something I want to do, as well, to prove myself and show them who I am as a player and person.” Caedan Bankier is the only other Blazer who cracked the list. NHL Central Scouting gave the forward a “C” rating, projecting he will be picked in either Round 4, Round 5 or Round 6 of the 2021 NHL Draft. “It’s a huge honour and it’s super exciting,” said Bankier, who the Blazers picked in Round 3 of the 2018 bantam draft. “It’s good to see Stanks on it, as well.” Bankier, a 6-foot-1, 170pound left shot from Surrey, racked up seven goals and 20 points in 55 games last season. He turned 18 on Jan. 26.

ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW

Sopo strong

Doctors delivered life-changing news to Kyrell Sopotyk on Friday, Jan. 22, just hours after he fractured his T5 vertebrae in a snowboarding accident near North Battleford, Sask. “They didn’t sugarcoat anything and told him he would never walk again,” said Lori Sopotyk, the mother of 19-year-old Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell. “He’s paralyzed from the belly button down and it’s a long, long journey ahead for all of us.” A GoFundMe account was created for the Sopotyks. Nearly $200,000 has been raised. Donate online at ca.gofundme. com/f/help-support-the-sopotyks.

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B8

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021

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