The Kamloops Blazers blew smoke during their recent 1-5 trek through the East Division and head coach Barry Smith paid the ultimate price for his team’s lukewarm performance.
Craig Bonner, the Blazers’ vice-president and general manager, relieved Smith of his duties earlier this week, citing the club’s lack of emotion while being outshot in each of their previous seven games.
“I don’t think myself or the ownership is satisfied with being an average team — we expect more of ourselves and more of the team,” Bonner told the Kamloops Daily News. “We didn’t see enough improvement and emotion and aggressiveness in our game and it became more and more evident that something had to be done.”
And so Smith, in his second full season with the Blazers, was fired, a move that netminder Justin Leclerc didn’t see coming.
“I was surprised it was the coach,” said Leclerc, who has faced more shots (444) than any other WHL goaltender this season. “Having said that, I really trust Craig Bonner, and his decision. I think this will be the best thing for the team moving forward.”
Replacing Smith — a former Vancouver Canucks assistant coach — as the Blazers bench boss, at least on an interim basis, is second-year assistant Scott Ferguson. Geoff Smith, who was working as a part-time assistant, has been given a bigger role with the team.
“It obviously wasn’t working defensively,” Boston Bruins winger Mark Recchi, one of the team’s five owners, told The Daily News.
“You hate to have to do it, but (Bonner) and (the owners) felt it was the only way we were going to get better.
“We have a good team . . . and mediocrity doesn’t cut it now.”
l Just notes: Former Rebels forward Dustin Moore has been named captain of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns. The Red Deer native has busted out of the gate in his second Canada West hockey season and is tied for second in league scoring with two goals and 11 points in five games with the 3-2-1 ‘Horns. Moore was named U of L male athlete of the week for the period ending Oct. 25, after assisting on seven of eight Pronghorns goals during a weekend home-ice sweep of the UBC Thunderbirds . . . Tri-City Americans head coach Jim Hiller wasn’t nervous about facing his former team for the first time prior to the Ams’ meeting with the host Chilliwack Bruins on Wednesday. “I’m not uneasy,” Hiller, who was fired by the Bruins last spring, told the Tri-City Herald. “The game isn’t about me. I’m emotionally invested in some of the players, but it’s important we stay focused and play like we have been.” The Americans were indeed on a roll heading into Chilliwack, winners of their previous nine. But that streak was snapped when the Bruins came up with a 5-2 victory . . . While Red Deer Rebels forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been getting most of the rookie attention in the Eastern Conference, and rightfully so, Kelowna Rockets first-year forward Shane McColgan has been burning up the Western Conference. “He’s likely the most dynamic 16-year-old player we’ve ever had here,” Rockets head scout and assistant GM Lorne Frey told the Kelowna Capital News, in reference to the club’s first-round pick in the 2008 WHL bantam draft. “I think maybe some people are surprised at how quickly he’s adapted, but I think everybody knew what kind of player he was going to be. When we drafted him, he was the best prospect we’d seen in a long time and nothing has changed. He’s an exceptional talent and he’s getting better and better.” The five-foot-10 McColgan, from Manhattan Beach, Calif., leads all WHL rookies in scoring with 19 (6-13) points — one more than Nugent-Hopkins — and plays a physical style. “He’s excited every time he comes to the rink, you can just see how much he loves to play the game,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “He can do things at high speeds and make the kinds of moves at top speed you just don’t see from a lot of players. He’s a fiery individual, too, that fits in with his character and the kind of player he is. I think having him around for our playoff run last year was important and he’s really come into this season ready to play and contribute.”
On the move: The Prince George Cougars have dipped into the U.S. college ranks for their latest goaltender. When James Priestner walked out on the Cougars this week, a spot opened for Hudson Stremmel, who wasn’t happy in his role with the Colorado College Tigers. Stremmel, who will battle with recent arrival Alex Wright for the starting job in Prince George, played in the USHL last season for the Chicago Steel, and didn’t see any action in any of the Tigers’ four games this fall. “I’ve known about (the Cougars’) interest for two or three weeks now and it just happened last weekend where everything just fell into place,” Stremell, a native of Reno, Nev., told the Prince George Citizen. “It’s really exciting to finally be here and be a Cougar. This is an exciting place to be. It’s a good situation here, it seems like it’s anyone’s job.” Stremell found that college life wasn’t to his liking. “When I got to college it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. I just really wanted to focus on hockey and I felt that was kind of taking a back seat. There’s so much school work. I can go to school any time. It’s a short window (of opportunity) for hockey.” . . . The Everett Silvertips traded left winger Paul Van de Velde to the Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday for a conditional ninth-round bantam draft pick. Van de Velde, a 19-year-old in his second season with the Tips, was seeing limited time on Everett’s fourth line, appearing in each of the team’s first 10 games without scoring. Last season he had four goals and nine assists in 52 games. Van de Velde made a favourable impression during his Wheat Kings debut, a 5-4 win at Spokane on Wednesday. “I thought he was real effective,” Wheat Kings GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon told the Brandon Sun. “He played right wing with Jordan Hale and Jesse Hall and I thought they made a difference in the game and it was a good first game for Paul.”