On the eve of the Kamloops Blazers home opener, there is a natural excitement surrounding the return of the WHL regular season to the city.
New Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston says there's excitement in the locker room too and he's hoping his team can channel that feeling into a positive result against a "very good" Spokane Chiefs team.
"As far as expectations in the home opener, we want to be at our best at the end of the hockey season," he says. "So we're going to go into the game tomorrow night, hopefully with some confidence, attacking, going after the game. I don't want the guys to have the excitement turn the corner and create too much nervousness, I want the guys to have some fun and go after it."
While he's looking at tomorrow night's game as the first of many chances to evaluate the team, fans will be hoping to see an effort that backs up the hype. The Blazers made noise yesterday, appearing at the number five spot on the CHL's top 10 rankings.
Preseason #KiaCHLTop10 Rankings:@GoLondonKnights open 2019-20 ☝️— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) September 18, 2019
1-LDN, 2-CHI, 3-SAS, 4-OTT, 5-KAM, 6-HAL, 7-SAG, 8-EDM, 9-SHE, 10-VAN.
Honours: PBO, MON, CGY
Let the march to @CHLMemorialCup Presented by @KiaCanada begin across @TheWHL, @OHLHockey, and @QMJHL 🏆 pic.twitter.com/qIectgMF54
Clouston had a few thoughts on Kamloops' preseason praise.
"If it's college football, the rankings mean something, I mean they actually mean something as far as the playoffs are concerned. At our level, they don't mean anything, they're just an opinion. That was one thought," he says. "The other thought is, you know based on the roster, based on the finish last year and what we did in the preseason, media people around the league believe we have a good hockey team."
Their undefeated preseason was the latest nugget of coal to power the Blazers hype-train. But while some exhibition results can be written off based on the roster opponents are icing, one through-line that stood out was the play of the Logan Stankoven, Zane Franklin and Orrin Centazzo line. The trio combined to finish first, second and third in preseason scoring, respectively.
"It's a line combination we're going to start with and give every opportunity to be successful," says Clouston. "You've got three guys on there that work hard, three guys that have good skill, a high level of compete and right now there's some chemistry. There's good communication on that line, too. We were working on the power play yesterday and it wasn't going great and they were all working together at the end of practice, talking and coming up with things that they needed to improve on all on their own."
NEARLY SOLD OUT!!!— Kamloops Blazers (@blazerhockey) September 19, 2019
Just 300 tickets REMAIN!
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This week wasn't all about practice though. Kamloops had to whittle their roster down to just 23 players and did so by saying goodbye to veteran defenseman Jackson Caller, trading forward Riley Ginnell to the Brandon Wheat Kings and assigning Jerzy Orchard to the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL.
Clouston says while it's a tough week for some guys, the Blazers are shifting their concentration toward this loaded weekend when they'll play three games in three nights.
"The mood has been good. The players, especially veteran players, they know what's expected. For management, it's challenging decisions. I think for the players, it's a teammate and a friend, so there's some sympathy and compassion for that player who is leaving and doesn't want to be. But I think, overall, the main focus is the group of guys that are left in that room. It's about the players that are here now."
Dylan Garand will get the nod in net for the Blazers' season opener. As for Rayce Ramsay, Clouston says he should be fine after leaving the team's final preseason game with an injury on Saturday (Sept. 14).
After the home opener, the Blazers will travel to Seattle on Saturday night and Portland on Sunday.
Tomorrow's game starts at 7 p.m.