KAMLOOPS — Since starting the 2017-2018 with no wins in their first 9 games, the Kamloops Blazers have won 9 of their last 13. Despite the solid stretch of play, the Blazers still find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in - but with 50 games left to play, head coach Don Hay doesn’t seem to be worried, as lately, he’s seen a pair of veteran players create some chemistry, which has been an important factor in the team’s improved play.
After starting the season without a win in their first 9 tries, the Blazers have won 9 of their last 13 games, and are slowly climbing back into the mix in the BC Division.
“It was hard y’know? I felt like I took a lot of the load on my shoulders going 0-9 to start,” Blazers Captain Nick Chyzowski told CFJC Today. “We just stuck to the game plan, and I believe in everyone in the room, and we fought our way out of it and we’re doing well now.”
“It’s always challenging when you wear that ‘C’ because you have to be answerable to the coach and you have to be answerable to your teammates,” Blazers Head Coach Don Hay said of his first year Captain. “I think it’s a fine line that you have to walk, but if you compete at a high level and you lead by example, that’s the first step.”
Some of their recent success is a result of the chemistry Captain Nick Chyzowski and fourth-year forward Quinn Benjafield have created recently.
“I guess you could say we’re predictable,” Chyzowski said of that chemistry. “I feel like we play a similar game, so I feel like we play really well together.”
That predictability between Chyzowski and Benjafield has led to increased output from the pair. In the first 9 games, the two combined for just 11 points. Since the Blazers first win, Chyzowski has 11 points of his own, while Benjafield has 15 in his last 13 games, including a four-point performance last Saturday against Lethbridge
“I think I’ve been playing with a bit more confidence lately,” Benjafield said of his improved production. “I’ve been holding onto pucks, taking a [few] more risks lately, and I think it just paid off on the weekend.”
After over 1300 games coached in the WHL, Don Hay understands that each player develops at a different pace.
“All young players want it sooner or later,” Hay said. “I think it’s a process. You look at Jermaine now. He’s becoming one of our top forwards, Quinn’s becoming one of our top forwards. It’s a process they have to go through as young players to learn and understand the game and to compete at the level you need to, to have success.”
For Benjafield, the potential the Blazers saw to pick him in the first round of the 2013 Bantam Draft is being realized with his play in recent games.
“[Quinn’s] hockey I.Q. is really good. I think that he's at the stage of his career now where he’s getting stronger and he’s getting physically more ready to play and compete at a Western Hockey League level,” Hay said about Benjafield’s development. “He’s always been a reliable player for us, but now he’s demoing one of our real core players.”
While it seems the early season futility the Blazers experienced is firmly in the rearview mirror, the boys in blue will be in tough tonight, as they host the central division leading Medicine Hat Tigers. Hay sees games against teams like the Tigers as a way to measure the progress of his squad.
“You have to beat the teams around you in the standings, you have to beat the teams above you in the standings,” Hay said. “Medicine Hat is one of the teams that are top of their division, we’ve always had good contests against them… and it should be a real challenging situation for us.”
Puck drop at the Sandman Centre tonight goes at 7:00 pm; the Blazers play at home tomorrow against BC division rivals the Prince George Cougars.
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