The Kamloops Blazers' Saturday night date with the Prince George Cougars just got a whole lot more interesting.
That's because Kamloops Minor Hockey Association product Ryan Hanes, who played the last three seasons with the Blazers, has been added to the Cougars' roster.
The Portland Winterhawks, who are 16-3-1 and on a 12-game winning streak, are scheduled to visit Interior Savings Centre on Friday night, with the Cougars (7-10-3) here on Saturday night. Both games are to begin at 7 o'clock.
The Cougars are 2-6-2 in their last 10 outings and are hoping that Hanes, an agitator of the first order, will be able to provide them with a jumpstart.
Hanes, a right-winger, was released by the Blazers in August as they moved towards the WHL maximum of three 20-year-old players per team. He put up 40 points, including 16 goals, and 316 penalty minutes in 181 regular-season games with the Blazers. Last season, he had career highs in goals (8), assists (14) and points.
After being dropped by Kamloops, he joined the BCHL's Cowichan Valley Capitals, for whom he put up 25 points, including 12 goals, in 20 games. He was seventh in the BCHL scoring race, just three points off the lead.
"Personally, things were going really well but our team was struggling to get wins," Hanes said. "I was playing probably the best hockey I've played. It was a lot of fun."
Hanes was making dinner early Tuesday evening when his phone rang. It was Dean Clark, the Cougars' head coach, with an offer. Hanes quickly accepted and left early yesterday.
"I got out of there fast," Hanes said with a laugh.
Hanes drove to Kamloops yesterday and is to head north this morning. He is scheduled to practise with the Cougars this afternoon and should be in the lineup - wearing No. 13 - against the visiting Saskatoon Blades on Friday.
The Cougars had room for a third 20-year-old after putting veteran forward Brock Hirsche on the 30-day injured list with what is believed to be a long-term shoulder injury. Hirsche, who was limited by injuries to just eight games last season, had shoulder surgery in December. He now is dealing with doctors in an attempt to learn the exact seriousness of this most-recent injury.
Hanes was quick to admit that he is really excited to be back in the WHL and that, until Tuesday evening, he "never" thought of playing for the Cougars.
As for Saturday night's game, he said: "I'm looking forward to it, that's for sure."
Asked who on the Blazers is likely to chirp at him the most, Hanes paused, chuckled and said: "I don't know if anyone will chirp me. I don't know."
Then he added: "Everyone will talk to me . . . there'll be some joking."
It was during the second round of last spring's playoffs when, with the Blazers ensconced in a bitter seven-game series with Portland, Hanes spent the warmup prior to Game 3 at the ISC patrolling the centre red-line, yapping and snarling at visiting players.
So . . . will he be doing that on Saturday?
"Oh yeah, for sure," Hanes said. Then he laughed. "No, definitely not."
One of the most popular Blazers in recent years, Hanes was overwhelmed with the response from fans yesterday.
At one point, he turned to Twitter with exclamation-point fever: "I just wanna retweet everyone's tweets right now! But there's about 50 of em! Thanks everyone! Appreciate it! I'm one excited kid!"
He later said he had received more than 60 tweets.
"I was sitting on the ferry having a Caesar salad and scrolling through them all," he said. "There were a lot of them."
Meanwhile, the Blazers, who have lost four straight games and five of six, slipped to fourth in the CHL rankings that were released Wednesday. Two weeks ago, they were No. 1; last week they were No. 2. Now, the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads (17-2-1) are first, followed by Portland (16-3-1) and the OHL's Owen Sound Attack (14-3-3).
JUST NOTES: Team WHL beat Russia 1-0 in a shootout in Vancouver last night in Game 5 of the Subway Super Series. Linemates Colin Smith and JC Lipon of the Blazer, who are 1-2 in the WHL scoring race, were spectators. They are scheduled to play against the Russians tonight in Victoria but are to return to Kamloops in time to play Friday against the Winterhawks. . . . The Red Deer Rebels fired head coach Jesse Wallin yesterday. Brent Sutter, the franchise's owner, president and general manager, installed himself as the interim head coach. He also signed Jeff Truitt, a former Kelowna Rockets head coach, as associate coach. Truitt was working as an assistant coach with the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns. . . . The Rebels also sent F Charles Inglis, 20, home to Winnipeg to await a trade. Inglis led the Rebels in goals (11) and points (14). Red Deer acquired him on Dec. 29 after the Cougars had sent him home.