Needham developing, Blazers search for form
Kamloops Blazer netminders Cole Cheveldave and Taran Kozun could use a dose of teammate Matt Needham’s confidence.
“I’m finally starting to get my game where it needs to be and starting to put up points as a result,” Needham told KTW.
“Once you kind of get on a roll, things start to come easy for you. You don’t second-guess yourself.
“You’re confident the play you’re making is the right one.”
Needham racked up five points in two weekend games, including a hat-trick in a 5-4 loss to the Victoria Royals at Interior Savings Centre on Saturday, Jan. 19.
Kamloops downed the Tri-City Americans 4-1 in Kennewick, Wash., on Friday, Jan. 18.
On Saturday, indiscipline and shaky goaltending plagued the Blazers, who have struggled to find consistency since tearing up the Western Hockey League in September and October.
Needham, from Penticton, is developing into the player Kamloops management expected him to be when he was drafted eighth overall at the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.
The Blazers picked Cole Ully in Round 2, 30th overall, the same year.
The Calgary product has led the Blazers in scoring since the Christmas break.
Needham and Ully, both 17, have found chemistry playing on a line with 18-year-old forward Chase Souto.
The unit combined for 13 points on the weekend.
Blazer head coach Guy Charron has been looking for that type of secondary scoring for quite some time.
Now, it’s up to the big guns to return to form.
JC Lipon, Tim Bozon and Colin Smith, in fairness, have had little time to rekindle the early-season magic, with Lipon only recently returning from international duty at the world junior hockey championship in Ufa, Russia, and Bozon out on the weekend due to sickness.
Charron is still tinkering with line combinations, deciding where to use the likes of Brendan Ranford, Kale Kessy and Dylan Willick.
Needham has 11 goals and 28 points this season, on pace to dwarf last season’s totals of 12 goals and 34 points.
“I’m just getting some confidence back,” Needham said. “Playing with [Souto and Ully] has been great. We’ve got a lot of chemistry.”
The Blazers are hosting the Everett Silvertips at ISC on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Puck-drop is slated for 7 p.m.
First-place Portland held an 11-point lead over third-place Kamloops in the Western Conference at KTW’s press deadline on Monday, Jan. 21.
Kelowna, in second place, was five points back of the Winterhawks.
Bozon and defenceman Landon Cross are both questionable with sickness for Wednesday’s tilt, and forward Aspen Sterzer is still out with an upper-body injury.
Fans will soon be able to decide for themselves if the deck with which Kamloops is playing has enough cards to make a championship run.
“We’re home and everyone’s healthy,” Needham said.
“We’ve got to take advantage of it and start climbing our way back up the standings.”