KAMLOOPS --- Sunday was exit interview day for the Kamloops Blazers - an opportunity for the coaches and management to speak with players about the year that was. For GM Stu MacGregor, his message to the whole team boiled down to consistency and preparation.
"I think as an organization we have to be much more consistent in our effort." says MacGregor, "Top to bottom. When you star 0-and-9 it's not easy to keep battling back --- we just have to be a lot better in our effort on an every day basis."
After that dismal start, the Blazers battled their way back to respectability, going 16-8-1 before Christmas. It was their inability to win crucial games down the stretch that disappointed Head Coach Don Hay.
"We worked really hard to get back to .500." says Hay, "I thought when we got back to .500 we would continue to move ahead. But the team really struggled into February and March. Those struggles really cost us playoff positioning."
While the team will lose two of their top four scorers, 20-year-olds Nick Chyzowski and Joe Gatenby, the roster will be jam packed with 18-year-olds - five forwards and four defensemen - who have the opportunity to be impact players for Blazers next season.
"That's going to be the strength of the hockey club --- you're hoping they a great summer and really grow." says Hay, "It's shown the teams that have success in the league are strong with 18 and 19 year old players.."
Brody Stuart won the team’s Rookie of the Year Award on Friday night, finishing the year 6th in team scoring with 16 goals and 22 helpers - he says there are a couple of ways he wants to improve his game over the summer in order to help take his game to the next level.
"I think getting bigger and faster and putting on some more weight and trying to get more explosive over the off season." says Stuart, "My first half I played a bit better --- I think really learning how long of a season it is --- that's a big part of it coming back next season."
It’s also possible four 20-year-olds could be back in Blue and Orange - Forwards Quinn Benjafield, Luc Smith, and Jermaine Loewen and Goaltender Dylan Ferguson.
Says coach Don Hay, "We can only keep three of those four guys. One would be a possibily be out captain, one our starting goaltender, and the other one would have to have to have a great impact."
Dylan Ferguson appeared between the pipes in 59 games for the Blazers in 2017-2018, winning 24, and losing 32. 2017 was a memorable year for Ferguson; he was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the summer, then acquired by the Vegas Golden Knights - who had to call him up to the NHL for two weeks on an emergency basis early in the season. He says this season was a valuable learning experience for a young net minder.
"Nobody wants to start the season 0-and-9." says Ferguson, "I was pretty hard on myself to turn it around, and we did, dug it out, but ------ you know it's one of those things where you need to learn, and the start of the season for me was just a learning experience."
Whether it was the 0-9 start to the year, or inconsistent play down the stretch, the club is preparing to be better in the 2018-2019 season - and McGregor is thankful the Kamloops fans stuck with his young squad throughout the year.
"We appreciate the fans hanging in there with us." says MacGregor, "I think they can see the development of our players. The trade we made in acquiring Onyebuchi and Centazzo, and how they are going to make a positive impact on our organization. They see the depth of those players. We're going to continue to grow, and I appreciate their (the fans) support.
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