Thursday April 17, 2014






Blazers experiment with new lines

Ranford will suit up alonside Smith and Lipon against Americans
Murray Mitchell

Brendan Ranford (19) of the Kamloops Blazers, seen evading Spokane Chiefs forward Liam Stewart during an October game, will start tonight’s WHL game against the Tri-City Americans on a line with Colin Smith and JC Lipon.

Guy Charron has shuffled the deck.

Charron, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, has broken up the highest-scoring line in the WHL, moving left-winger Tim Bozon to a line with centre Charles Inglis and, at this point, right-winger Mitch Friesen.

Brendan Ranford will move up to play beside centre Colin Smith and right-winger JC Lipon.

“It’s an experimental thing,” Charron said Thursday. “We’ll see how it goes.”

The Blazers will open a three-games-in-three-nights stretch Friday when the Tri-City Americans come to Interior Savings Centre. The Moose Jaw Warriors will visit Saturday, before Kamloops heads to Kent, Wash., to play the Seattle Thunderbirds on Sunday.

Even Charron isn’t certain whether the new lines will last a period, a game or for the entire weekend.

“You never know with me,” he said. “Whatever I see and whatever I feel is fit to do, I’ll do it.”

The line of Bozon, Smith and Lipon has been terrific this season, combining for 143 points. Lipon leads the WHL with 53 points, including a league-high 21 goals, with Smith second with 52 points and a WHL-leading 33 assists. Bozon is tied for fifth in the league with 38 points.

But while Smith and Lipon continue to roll — each has 13 points over the last eight games — Bozon has stalled, with two points in his last four games and seven points over his last 11 games.

“We’ve done this in the past, and it hasn’t necessarily worked,” Charron said. “The chemistry with (Lipon),

Smith and Bozon is there, so it’s not a situation where we can’t get back to them (together).”

Ranford, who had 92 points in 69 games last season, has been solid this season, with 31 points in 26 games.

But he has lost both his linemates this month — Dylan Willick broke an ankle and will miss at least a couple more weeks, and Jordan DePape underwent shoulder surgery and has gone home for the season.

Ranford played the last three games alongside Inglis, whom the Blazers acquired from the Red Deer Rebels on Nov. 19, but the pair struggled to find chemistry.

Like Charron said, moving Ranford to play with Smith and Lipon is just an experiment.

“We don’t know if it’s going to work, because (Ranford) is also a passer,” Charron said. “We need some shots, especially in key areas. Maybe he’ll help (Smith and Lipon) shoot more, because he’s a disher.”

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The Blazers are down to 12 forwards after winger Cole Ully returned to Calgary while he battles mononucleosis.

Ully, 17, is expected to miss four weeks, which would put his return date around Dec. 27, when the Blazers return from an 11-day break for Christmas.

Ully has 14 points in 28 games this season, his second with the Blazers.

Forward Rob Trzonkowski left Thursday’s practice a little early after being hit in a foot with a slap shot. Charron wasn’t sure of his status.

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The Blazers practised four straight days this week, the first time that has happened since late October and only the second time it has happened this season.

Because of their hectic schedule, Kamloops hasn’t had five days off since Oct. 20-26.

“Maybe it’s a week to re-energize ourselves,” Charron said.

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The Americans rolled into Interior Savings Centre on Thursday just as the Blazers were wrapping up their practice.

Tri-City hasn’t won on the road since Oct. 20, when it beat the Broncos 2-1 in Swift Current. Since then, the Americans have won seven of nine home games, but have dropped four on the road, including a 3-2 decision in Kelowna on Wednesday.

The Americans are 16-9-1-1 and tied for fourth in the Western Conference.

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Moose Jaw, meanwhile, is right in the thick of the East Division.

The Warriors (10-11-3-4) are tied for second in the six-team division. But only four points separate the teams in second (Moose Jaw and Swift Current) from the sixth-place Brandon Wheat Kings.

The Warriors are 2-0 on their trip through the B.C. Division, having beaten the Victoria Royals 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday and the Vancouver Giants 2-1 on Wednesday. Moose Jaw plays in Kelowna tonight and against the Cougars in Prince George on Tuesday.

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JUST NOTES: Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. . . . Saturday’s game will include the annual Teddy Bear Toss. . . . Kris Knoblauch was named head coach of the OHL’s Erie Otters on Thursday. Knoblauch was head coach of the Kootenay Ice before being fired over the summer. He takes over from Robbie Ftorek, who was let go. . . . The Rockets traded F Filip Vasko to the Rebels for a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca


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