Wednesday April 23, 2014

Hunchak rips Blazers after teddy bear shutout

If ever a moment could describe a season, the Kamloops Blazers despondently picking teddy bears off the Interior Savings Centre ice following Saturday's WHL game would be it.

The Blazers were hammered 7-0 by the Everett Silvertips on Teddy Bear Game night. Not only was it the team's 12th straight loss, it also came on what should have been a fun night.

Instead, 4,119 disappointed fans had to throw their teddy bears at game's end, when the Silvertips were celebrating, and the Blazers had to help clean up the building they had just been blown out of.

It was the second straight thumping for the Blazers, who lost 7-3 to the visiting Kootenay Ice on Friday.

"I'm at a loss for words right now," said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak. "We just basically fell apart. You can see the frustration on guys, but at the same time, there's no excuse for that to happen in our building, ever.

"That should never happen in our building - it doesn't matter who we play. To watch these last two nights, it's sickening. It's sickening to watch . . ."

The 12-game streak ties the franchise worst, which the Junior Oilers set in 1981-82.

The Blazers knew this was going to be a tough season - they lost most of the key players who carried the mail on the team that went to the Western Conference final last season. But what happened on Friday and Saturday had less to do with experience and more to do with performance.

"There's guys in that room that just have to get better. They just have to get better," Hunchak said. "Yeah, 13-14 new guys - that's just an excuse. We have to be better as a hockey team."

The Silvertips, coming off back-to-back losses, played a nearly perfect game Saturday, even if the Blazers never really pushed them. Everett got 26 saves from Austin Lotz, who now has four shutouts, as well as two goals apiece from Ben Betker and Ivan Nikolishin.

It's not the first time the Blazers have been shut out on Teddy Bear Night - in 2008, Travis Yonkman stopped 28 shots as the Swift Current Broncos shut out the Blazers 2-0. Yonkman likely had to work harder for that shutout than Lotz did Saturday.

"Right now our group is so wishy-washy as far as the decisions they make with the puck," Hunchak said. "We didn't have the puck tonight. That's the bottom line - (Everett) had the puck pretty much the final 40 minutes, and when you don't have the puck, it's hard to generate anything."

Kamloops hit the road right after the contest for a six-game trip to the East Division, a trip that will take it into Christmas. The first game is scheduled for Tuesday against the Wheat Kings in Brandon.

"Believe me, we're trying everything right now. We are trying absolutely everything we can to get this thing righted," Hunchak said. "It's everything from (defensive) zone coverage right on up to the offensive zone.

"We've tried different things to get a spark here and at some point, it has to fall on the players' laps. I'm willing to take as much criticism as anybody, but at some point, it's got to start falling on some players' laps here as well."

The Blazers, now 6-20-4, are last in the Western Conference. They have lost as many games in regulation (20) as they did in each of the past two regular seasons.

The Blazers also are facing a schedule that will get much more difficult from this point forward. Because the Tim Hortons Brier is forcing the team out of ISC for a month starting in mid-February, Kamloops has played 19 of its first 30 games at home.

Starting with the six games out east this week, the Blazers will play 12 of 13 on the road. In total, 25 of the team's last 42 games will be road games.

Kamloops has lost eight straight on the road, and is 1-9-1 away from ISC. Not that things are going so well at home either.

"We've been embarrassed in our building the last two nights (so) I would hope they'd be angry," Hunchak said. "Just from a personal perspective, you should be angry with what's going on."

Carson Stadnyk, Mirco Mueller and Jujhar Khaira also scored for the Silvertips. For the second straight night, Taran Kozun was pulled out of the Blazers goal. On Saturday, he left after allowing five goals on 29 shots; Cole Kehler stopped nine of the other 11 Everett shots.

JUST NOTES: Kamloops D Sam Grist sat out a one-game WHL suspension for a match penalty he took in Friday's loss. . . . Kamloops F Joe Kornelsen (head) sat out Saturday, while F Aspen Sterzer (lower body) returned after missing two games. . . . Referee Brett Iverson, who once again proved the one-man system to be superior, gave the Silvertips two power plays, on which they scored once, and the Blazers one man advantage. . . . The Daily News' Three Stars: 1. Mueller: San Jose Sharks prospect was outstanding; 2. Lotz: Didn't exactly steal Christmas, but was solid; 3. Betker: Made it tough for Kamloops forwards to do anything. . . . The Blazers' next home game is scheduled for Dec. 29, when the Vancouver Giants visit.

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