The Kamloops Blazers, still looking for more out of their veteran players, may be without one of the few that has been producing early in this WHL season.
Cole Ully, the Blazers' leading goal-scorer with three in four games, faces a league suspension after being assessed a major penalty for checking from behind in the third period of Saturday's 3-1 loss to the host Prince George Cougars. The WHL automatically reviews any major penalty and determines whether a suspension is warranted.
The Blazers are scheduled to play again Friday, when the Victoria Royals visit Interior Savings Centre. The Cougars will be in Kamloops the next night.
Ully, who scored twice in the Blazers' 5-2 victory in Prince George on Friday, took the major with 12:49 left in Saturday's game. Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak said it was a "bang-bang" play, in which Ully was trying to "separate the guy from the puck" but ended up getting him from behind.
Referees Fraser Lawrence and Derek Zalaski saw fit to give Ully a major, meaning Richard Doerksen, the WHL's vice-president, hockey, will review the play and determine if a suspension is necessary. Ully, an 18-year-old winger from Calgary, has a fairly clean rap sheet, having picked up only 46 penalty minutes in 122 career WHL games.
His lone major penalty before Saturday's came after a fight with Aryton Nikkel of the visiting Everett Silvertips on Jan. 23. Nikkel, who was assessed an instigator penalty on the play, jumped Ully after the Blazers winger had levelled rookie Mitch Skapski coming out of his defensive zone.
"By no means is (Ully) a malicious player," said Hunchak, who declined to speculate on whether a suspension would be coming, saying: "That's not my decision."
If Ully is forced to sit out, it could hurt the Blazers' attack.
Through two weekends of the regular season, the Blazers are 1-3. They are getting ready for the busy parts of their schedule, with Friday's contest kicking off a nine-games-in-16-days stretch.
The Blazers came into the season as a young, rebuilding team, but the young players have acquitted themselves rather nicely early on. But Kamloops still would like more out of some of its veterans.
As Hunchak rotates his lines and different players get accustomed to new roles, he expects things to get better with his veteran players.
"It's one thing for me and the coaching staff to expect more out of (some of the older players), but it's another for them to expect more out of themselves," Hunchak said. "We know that they're good players and we know what they're capable of. They just need to keep putting the work in."
The Blazers had their best special-teams effort of the season on Friday, when they scored two power-play goals and a shorthanded marker while killing off all eight Cougars power plays.
It was a different story on Saturday, with the Blazers going 0-for-4 on the power play and 5-for-6 on the penalty kill. But it wasn't that bad, Hunchak said.
"I think we played a better game on Saturday," Hunchak said. "Our penalty kill was excellent, it just had to kill too many penalties, and that inflated the shot count (46-27 in favour of Prince George).
"Our discipline has to be much better, and we'll be focusing on that in practice this week. Yeah, penalties are going to happen in hockey, but we were taking them at bad times and in places we shouldn't be taking penalties."
Josh Connolly, who had a three-point night Friday, scored the Blazers' goal Saturday. Alex Forsberg, Brad Morrison and Klarc Wilson scored for the Cougars, who got 26 saves from Ty Edmonds.
According to Hunchak, the Blazers are healthy. Their roster still sits at 25, including 16 forwards, but Hunchak said he doesn't have a timeline for when the team will be trimmed to the 23 or 24 many teams carry for the full season.
JUST NOTES: Taran Kozun, making his second straight start for the Blazers, made 43 saves. . . . Attendance dropped from 2,663 on Friday to 1,688 on Saturday. . . . These teams played eight times last season, with Kamloops winning seven games, including three in overtime or a shootout. They will play eight more times this season.