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Blazers winger focusing on consistency

Consistency is the catchword for Brendan Ranford.The Kamloops Blazers star winger is concentrating on avoiding the second-half blues that he experienced last winter.

Consistency is the catchword for Brendan Ranford.

The Kamloops Blazers star winger is concentrating on avoiding the second-half blues that he experienced last winter. The Edmonton product registered 28 goals and 58 points in the first 37 games of the 2010-12 WHL season, then slipped to 38 points in the final 31 games.

A seventh-round pick of Philadelphia in the 2010 NHL entry draft, Ranford, 19, received some words of advice after attending his second Flyers training camp in September.

“They (Flyers coaches) told be to just be more consistent this season,” Ranford said Wednesday at the Centrium, before a 4-2 loss to the Rebels. “They want me to stay consistent throughout the year and not have a drop-off like I did in the second half last season. Consistency and staying in shape are the most important things for me.

“I think I lost my conditioning in the second half. I realize that and it’s something I have to work on throughout the season.”

Ranford, who carries a solid 182 pounds on his five-foot-10 frame, has spent the last three summers in Red Deer, living with his grandparents, Kalla and Bill Ranford, while working out at the Can Pro Athletic Training Centre.

“It’s a great place to spend the summer and Can Pro is a good facility for myself to get ready for the season,” said the fourth-year Blazer. “I really enjoy training there. It’s a good time.”

A nephew of former NHL all-star netminder Bill Ranford, the talented forward suffered another setback late last season when he was suspended for six games for cross checking a linesman. Since the Blazers failed to qualify for the playoffs, Ranford sat out the final three games of the season and missed the first three contests of the current campaign.

“It was a mistake which I’ve taken full responsibility for,” he said. “I’ve learn from it. I can’t do that again. You learn from your mistakes and just keep moving forward and the start we’ve had has helped put it behind me.”

The offensively-gifted forward who captured the Alberta Midget League scoring title as a 15-year-old (33 goals and 79 points in 35 games with the Edmonton Canadians) is off to another torrid start with seven goals and 11 points in seven games.

The Blazers are also flourishing as a team. Wednesday’s loss left them with a 7-3-0-0 record before tonight’s clash with the host Lethbridge Hurricanes.

“As a team we have a lot more depth this season. And everyone is a year older, which is a big thing,” said Ranford, the Blazers’ first-round selection — 15th overall — in the 2007 WHL bantam draft. “We also have good goaltending, both guys (Cam Lanigan and rookie Cole Cheveldave) have been solid.

“We haven’t been giving up a lot of shots, so we’ve played well defensively while also putting the puck in the net. It seems like we have more time with the puck than in past years and that makes for a lot of fun.”

Ranford’s play will help determine how well the Blazers fare as the season progresses. His scoring prowess will certainly play a large role in the team’s success, but head coach Guy Charron is also counting on some on- and off-ice guidance from his veteran star.

“What’s amazing is what an extra year will do for maturity and leadership,” said Charron. “Last year Brendan came to us in real good shape and he had a lot of success early. We went through a lot of injuries and there was a big focus on him leading the way and it was probably overwhelming for him to some extent. His lack of success made him not deal with it the way he wanted to and then he was suspended late in the season.

“This year he’s come in with a new frame of mind. He’s shown that leadership that we were hoping to get from him and of course he’s a very good player.”

Indeed, Ranford has a skill set that the large majority of WHL players do not possess.

“He can be an explosive guy, he knows how to stretch to put himself in a breakaway mode,” said Charron. “And yet at other times in the offensive he can be very good in tight quarters. You don’t get the success he’s had by not having a very good skill level.”

l There was a time when the Kamloops Blazers were synonymous not only with success, but championships.

But for a WHL franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1999 and last spring failed to qualify for the post-season for the second time in six years, that time must seem like so, so many years ago.

But perhaps, just perhaps, the current version has the potential to recapture some of that old Kamloops magic that was prevalent in the ’80s and’90s. The Blazers of 2011-12 are off to a 7-3-0-0 start and everyone — players and coaches alike — seem to be on the same page.

“We’re just buying into the systems the coaches gave to us,” team captain and Red Deer product Chase Schaber said Wednesday, prior to a 4-2 loss to the Rebels at the Centrium.

“We know as a group that we won’t be successful if we don’t do the things we’re supposed to do. So game in and game out we stick to the game plan and it’s been working so far.”

The Blazers are certainly well-equipped up front. The club has some impressive weapons with the likes of Brendan Ranford, Colin Smith, JC Lipon, JT Barnett and Schaber himself.

“We have tons of skill, but that skill doesn’t really work unless the work ethic is put behind it and that’s what we really pride ourselves on as the Kamloops Blazers,” said Schaber. “If one guy isn’t working hard the other guys let him know and make sure he gets back up to par.”

And as the man with the ‘C’ on the front of his jersey, Schaber has to be a team disciplinarian of sorts.

“Absolutely, but everybody is a leader in his own way,” he said. “With me being the captain, obviously there’s a lot of things that come with that, but you have fun with it. You’re chosen just because of who you are and I don’t change.”

— copyright Red Deer Advocate