Bonner’s Blazers ready for home opener

blazers

Marty Hastings

Kamloops This Week

Craig Bonner’s desire to win cannot be questioned.

The Kamloops Blazers’ GM would like nothing more than to watch his team, now in the fourth year of his five-year plan, tear up the B.C. Division and make a run at a WHL title.

He did not make any bold predictions about point totals or championships, but Bonner said the 2011-2012 Blazers have what it takes to make some noise in the Western Conference.

“I think we should be very competitive this year,” said Bonner, who won a Memorial Cup with Kamloops as a player in 1992.

“We should have a good hockey team and a very competitive team in the conference.”

Kamloops had a dismal 2010-2011 campaign, finishing the season 29-37-3-3 and missing the playoffs for the second time in the franchise’s 30-year history.

How the club’s ownership group – majority owner Tom Gaglardi, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Darryl Sydor and Mark Recchi – might react to another season like that is anyone’s guess, said Bonner.

“That’s not my call,” he said. “That’s something you’d have to ask the owners and I don’t think you’d get a real clear answer.

“It’s a result-driven business and we realize that.”

The positive thing for the Blazers and their fans is the club might have the talent – and coaching – to get those results.

Returning to the fray are 20-year-old players Chase Schaber, who was this week named team captain, and standout defencemen Josh Caron and Bronson Maschmeyer.

Anchoring the blue line, along with the two 20-year-olds, will be Austin Madaisky, whose 2010-2011 season was cut short when he suffered a broken neck, and Brady Gaudet, who made strides toward being a solid WHL D-man last season.

Import defenceman Marek Hrbas (Czech Republic) had a strong pre-season and Bonner is expecting big things from third-year D man Tyler Hansen.

The Blazers are not short on talent up front, either.

Schaber, Dylan Willick, Brendan Ranford, J.T. Barnett, Colin Smith and Jordan DePape, all of whom attended NHL training camps this month, make up the core forwards who will battle for time on the top two lines and on special teams.

Throw into the mix Matt Needham, who impressed in limited action as a 15-year-old last season, and Kamloops might keep the goal judge at Interior Savings Centre (ISC) on his toes.

Tim Bozon, a forward from Switzerland, is Kamloops’ other import player.

What might worry Blazers’ fans is the club’s goaltending situation.

Cam Lanigan, 19, who backed up Jeff Bosch last season, has yet to prove he can be a full-time starter and neither Taran Kozun, 17, or Cole Cheveldave, 18, have logged any regular-season WHL minutes.

Bonner said all three played well in pre-season action, but none of them nailed down the job.

Kamloops opened its season against the Prince George Cougars on Saturday, Sept. 24, at ISC.