Prior to the Pandemic
With a balanced squad that was aided by the arrival of overagers Ryan Hughes and Max Martin, the Blazers became a legit championship contender and ended up with the best offence in the league, albeit by a single goal over the Portland Winterhawks. Not only did they win their first division title since 2012, but the team seemed poised to possibly reach the WHL final for the first time in over two decades.
Having some extra motivation to succeed after former Prince Albert Mintos captain Kyrell Sopotyk was paralyzed in a snowboarding accident in January, the Blazers dominated the B.C. Division with an 18-4-0-0 record as they captured back-to-back division titles for the first time since they won the Western Conference in 1994 and 1995, which was the end of their Memorial Cup dynasty era.
In addition to setting a new franchise record for regular season point percentage at .818, which surpassed the previous mark of .785 set in a 1986-87 campaign where they lost in the West final to the Portland Winterhawks, the Blazers posted a franchise-best goals against per game of 2.31, which beat their previous watermark of 2.50 from the 2012-13 season.
Surprisingly, the Blazers offence was down slightly from last year as they went from averaging 4.30 goals per game to 3.95, but that might have been expected with Hughes, Martin and Zane Franklin all aging out of the league.
- Orrin Centazzo (7-10-17 in 17 games)
- Nick McCarry (Signed off of waivers from the Medicine Hat Tigers – 7-5-12 in 20 games)
- Connor Zary (6-18-24 in 15 games – Calgary Flames Prospect)
- Reese Belton (2-4-6 in 22 games)
- Josh Doan (Unsigned 9th round pick in 2017 – 31-39-70 in 53 games for the Chicago Steel – Committed to the Arizona State Sun Devils)
- Daylan Kuefler (4-7-11 in 18 games)
- Peyton McKenzie (0-4-4 in 13 games)
- Josh Pillar (11-18-29 in 22 games)
- Caedan Bankier (11-12-23 in 22 games)
- Karter McNarland (Unsigned 7th round pick in 2018 – 2-3-5 in five games for the South Shore Kings – 10-40-50 in 57 games for the Humboldt Broncos in 2019-20 – Committed to the Vermont Catamounts)
- Matthew Seminoff (11-5-16 in 22 games)
- Logan Stankoven (7-3-10 in six games)
- Dylan Sydor (1-4-5 in 15 games)
- Cameron Johnson (Unsigned 4th round pick in 2019 – 3-8-11 in 20 games for the Chilliwack Chiefs – Committed to the Harvard Crimson)
- Connor Levis (9-5-14 in 22 games)
- Fraser Minten (4-14-18 in 20 games)
- Tye Spencer (2-0-2 in 16 games)
- Vaughn Watterodt (0-1-1 in 12 games)
- Luke Korte (3rd round pick in 2020 – 4-3-7 in six games for the Saskatoon Under-18 Contacts – 19-40-59 in 28 games for the West Van Academy Bantam Prep team in 2019-20)
- Kai Matthew (Unsigned 5th round pick in 2020 – 1-4-5 in six games for the Northern Alberta Xtreme Under-18 Prep Team – 17-21-38 in 25 games for the Northern Alberta Xtreme Under-15 Prep Team in 2019-20 – Will play for the Blackfalds Bulldogs next year – Committed to the Denver Pioneers)
If Connor Zary and Logan Stankoven had been able to play for the entire season, they would have posted some crazy numbers for the Blazers. However, Zary’s campaign ended early as a result of injuries from a hit by Prince George Cougars forward Jonny Hooker, while Stankoven was busy winning a gold medal for Canada at the World Under-18’s.
The offence didn’t really miss a beat though as a number of players made an impact. Former Minto Josh Pillar continued his strong play from a year ago to lead the team in scoring, while Caedan Bankier had a breakout campaign and might be picked in July’s NHL Draft. The rookies also did their part up front as Fraser Minten and Connor Levis immediately contributed for the team.
- Montana Onyebuchi (2-10-12 in 20 games – Signed with the San Jose Barracuda for next season)
- Sean Strange (0-8-8 in 22 games)
- Inaki Baragano (5-8-13 in 22 games)
- Quinn Schmiemann (2-15-17 in 22 games)
- Viktor Persson (Signed 2020 Import Draft Pick – 1-5-6 in 11 games for Stromsbro IF in Sweden – Vancouver Canucks Draft Pick)
- Ethan Brandwood (1-2-3 in 22 games)
- Logan Bairos (1-0-1 in 17 games)
- Mats Lindgren (1-9-10 in 22 games)
- Kaden Hammell (0-0-0 in seven games)
- Ryan Michael (3rd round pick in 2020 – 0-2-2 in five games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-18 Prep team – 4-21-25 in 30 games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-15 Prep team in 2019-20)
With Martin and import Libor Zabransky being the only players to leave the defence from last season, the Blazers blueline entered the year with a lot of experience. The veterans ended up leading the way as Montana Onyebuchi and Quinn Schmiemann would have had career campaigns under normal circumstances, while Inaki Baragano proved to be a valuable asset as one of the few imports to suit up this season.
Of the new faces on the roster, Mats Lindgren is the one that fans should be excited about. Like Levis, he had been committed to the Michigan Wolverines before signing with Kamloops and should be a huge piece for the team as they go forward.
- Dylan Garand (15-3-0 with a 2.15 GAA, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts – New York Rangers Draft Pick)
- Dylan Ernst (3-1-0 with a 3.00 GAA, an .872 save percentage and zero shutouts)
While Trent Miner of the Vancouver Giants ended up being the B.C. Division finalist for the WHL’s goaltender of the year, you can make a solid case that Dylan Garand could have been the nominee as his numbers were very close to Miner’s, except for the win department where Garand had the advantage.
As the only 2002-born netminder on Canada’s silver medal winning side at the World Juniors, it’s likely that the New York Rangers prospect will be competing with Sebastian Cossa of the Edmonton Oil Kings for the starting job at next year’s event. That will likely give Dylan Ernst a chance to gain some experience as the 17-year-old from Weyburn will probably be the starter for the club once Ernst turns pro.
The biggest change for the Blazers is currently ongoing as general manager Matt Bardsley stepped down from his position on May 25 after an impressive three-year run. It’s not yet clear who will take over the job, but they have some mighty big shoes to fill.
With no playoffs during the last two seasons, hockey fans in Kamloops have to be champing at the bit to see their team compete for an Ed Chynoweth Cup. That should finally be the case this spring as the Blazers have to be the easy odds-on favourite to win the B.C. Division.
Although they’ll lose Orrin Centazzo, Sean Strange, Onyebuchi, Zary and Baragano, everyone else is slated to come back. Plus, in addition to picking up Medicine Hat Tigers forward Nick McCarry off of the waiver wire on June 23, the defence will be strengthened by the arrival of Vancouver Canucks draft pick Viktor Persson as a dual-slot player and the likely return of Schmiemann after he wasn’t signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As the season goes on, the big question will be if the Blazers end up earning the right to host the 2023 Memorial Cup, as they’ve made a lot of noise that they have a better team than the Kelowna Rockets, who were due to host the tournament the last time the WHL had it in 2020.
While the Lethbridge Hurricanes brass might argue the Blazers’ point of view that they had the best looking team on paper when the host was determined in the fall of 2018, Kamloops certainly looks to be in a position where they could be a strong Memorial Cup home squad if they were to get the tournament this time around.
Unlike the Rockets, who have yet to regain the assets lost from their starcrossed 2019-20 season, the Blazers have all their picks in the first five rounds of December’s WHL Prospect Draft, in addition to second and third round picks they got from the Tri-City Americans for Luke Zazula.
They also have all but their second round pick in the opening five rounds of the 2022 draft, and all of their picks in the first five rounds for the 2023 and 2024 draft. With the assets they have at their disposal, the Blazers can build a squad that’s good enough to get to the biggest event in the Canadian Hockey League, even if they aren’t the hosts.