The growing pains facing the Kamloops Blazers early in the WHL season aren’t limited to their younger players.
The Blazers lost 5-2 to the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on Saturday, their second straight loss to open the regular season. On Friday, the Rockets came into Interior Savings Centre and won 5-2.
With the Blazers having lost a huge part of the team that went to the Western Conference final in the spring, growing pains were expected among the younger players coming into the lineup.
But some of the problems the Blazers have faced early involve the veterans.
“The veteran players’ roles have changed,” said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak on Sunday. “We expect them to contribute more with and without the puck.We need them to create opportunities on offence but, if they’re not, they have to be responsible defensively.”
Some of these players, filling “accelerated roles,” haven’t made the adjustments yet. No one is expecting them to be JC Lipon, Colin Smith or Brendan Ranford, three of the Blazers’ top four scorers last season, but Hunchak said he expects more than what they’ve shown.
“We need more from the older guys; the younger guys played fine (Saturday),” he said.
“(The veterans) are finding out how hard it is to do what Colin Smith and Ranford . . . were doing in those roles.”
As happened Friday, Kamloops’ Joe Kornelsen opened the scoring Saturday before the Rockets took over. Kelowna scored twice in the second period and twice more early in the third, before Tyson Baillie scored his second of the game into an empty net.
Nick Merkley, Madison Bowey and Cole Linaker also scored for the Rockets, who got 24 saves from Jordon Cooke.
Mitch Lipon —JC’s 17-year-old brother — scored his first WHL goal in the third period for Kamloops. Bolton Pouliot, making his first start for the Blazers, stopped 37 shots and “played well,” according to Hunchak.
For the second straight night, the Blazers were blanked on the power play. Kamloops had four chances with the extra man on Friday, not generating many scoring opportunities, before getting five on Saturday.
“We had some chances on the power play, we just couldn’t bury them,” Hunchak said.
“That’s just having guys in the power play who haven’t been there over the past couple of years. They’re still learning.”
The Blazers are on the road on the weekend, with back-to-back games against the Cougars in Prince George on Friday and Saturday.