Things aren't about to get any easier for the Kamloops Blazers, despite the fact they have played 13 games in nine cities over the last 27 days and need rest the way Mitt Romney needs votes.
Tonight, the Blazers begin the AD (After Dylan) portion of their 2012-13 season and it's the Edmonton Oil Kings, the WHL's defending champions, who are looking for them. The teams will meet at Interior Savings Centre at 7 o'clock.
The Blazers go into the game with the WHL's best record - 17-1-1 - but without versatile veteran forward Dylan Willick, who suffered a broken right ankle on Friday. Without Willick, a top-six forward who is a premier penalty killer, the Blazers will be looking for the likes of Chase Souto, a third-year left winger, and sophomore forwards Matt Needham, Aspen Sterzer and Cole Ully to pick up the slack.
"Every team is up to play us," Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said after Friday's 2-1 shootout victory over the visiting Prince George Cougars. Looking ahead to playing Edmonton, he added: "We know the challenge that this team will have for us. We prepare the same way for every team.
"We prepare for their strengths . . . if there's anything we can exploit and the fact we are the team that we are . . . I'm sure other teams pay attention to what they have to do to beat the Blazers."
The Oil Kings (10-4-3), who won their first WHL title in their fifth season of existence, are 1-1-0 on a road trip that began Friday with a 3-2 loss to the Prince Albert Raiders and continued Saturday with a 2-1 victory over the Swift Current Broncos. The Oil Kings then spent Sunday in Banff before journeying on to Kamloops yesterday.
Prior to Friday's game, the Oil Kings acquired defenceman David Musil from the Vancouver Giants. Musil, 19, was arguably the Giants' best player. His presence means the Oil Kings' roster includes the sons of four former NHLers - Musil's father, Frank, split 797 games between four teams and now scouts for the Edmonton Oilers. Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart, a defenceman and first-round selection by the New York Islanders in the NHL's 2012 draft, is one of Paul's three hockey-playing sons. Keegan Lowe, a defenceman, is the son of former Oilers captain Kevin Lowe, and forward Henrik Samuelsson's father, Ulf, had a lengthy career as an NHL defender.
After playing the Oil Kings, the Blazers will begin preparations for a weekend in the U.S. Division. While there, they will play three games in as many nights, against the Spokane Chiefs (12-6-0), Tri-City Americans (12-6-2) and Portland Winterhawks (12-3-1) - the three teams directly below them in the Western Conference standings.
By the time the Blazers leave Portland on Sunday night, they will have played 17 games in 12 different cities over 33 nights. Kamloops will take four days off and then face the Winterhawks, who go into this week's play having won their last eight games, at ISC on Nov. 16.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers hope to have D Sam Grist, 19, back in the lineup tonight. He suffered a rib injury in a 3-0 loss to the Rockets in Kelowna on Thursday and didn't play in Friday's victory over Prince George. . . . Kamloops linemates JC Lipon (40 points), Colin Smith (39) and Tim Bozon (31) remain 1-2-3 in the WHL scoring race despite having gone two complete games without a point.