If the sweltering heat causes a power outage in downtown Kamloops on Friday night, local businesses might consider plugging into Sandman Centre to harness some of the buzzing energy emitting from the rink as the Memorial Cup finally gets underway.
The Kamloops Blazers should be ready. The host squad will have had more than two weeks to recharge its batteries after dropping Game 6 of the WHL Western Conference championship to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The Blazers will lift the tournament’s lid against the Quebec Remparts, who clinched the QMJHL title on Sunday.
“As a team, we took about a week off after that Seattle series,” Blazers captain Logan Stankoven, who is looking to win a Memorial Cup for his hometown team, told Castanet Kamloops.
“Some guys went home, others stayed in town. It was nice to get away and come back with a fresh mindset. We think that if we bring fresh energy to this tournament while other teams are still battling, that it will benefit us.”
Puck drop against the Remparts is on Friday is 6 p.m. The Blazers will enjoy at least one day off in between each round-robin game, as they tangle with the OHL champion Peterborough Petes at 3 p.m. on Sunday before closing out round-robin play with a rematch against the Thunderbirds at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31.
Olen Zellweger was the centrepiece in a WHL trade-deadline blockbuster in January, and the megadeal did not take long to pay dividends for the club on Mark Recchi Way. The blue-chip defenceman from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., led the Blazers with 11 goals in 14 playoff games.
Zellweger said he’s spent some of his time off going to school on the opposition.
“I’ve just tried to get a feel for the other teams. I’m not as familiar with secondary scorers from the other leagues as much as I am from guys in the WHL,” he said.
“I’ve just been looking for a few things that could give me an advantage — things like other players’ defensive habits, what they’re like and how much speed they play with. In a tourney this tight, it could pay off in a big way.”
As the CHL playoffs began to wind down, the Blazers’ coaching staff rolled out their plan to ramp up team activities in an attempt to be firing on all cylinders come puck drop against the Remparts.
“We took the break to come up with a plan to get ready for the Memorial Cup,” said Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston.
“When the guys came back on Monday morning [May 15], we had breakfast and went through a presentation with things we want to improve on before the tournament and our plan to allow us to get in the right spot physically, mentally and emotionally for when the tournament begins. If we can get there, play our game and play with a lot of energy, that will be the biggest difference maker.”
Clouston said he and his staff have been studying up on the competition coming from Peterborough and Quebec City, but they’ve also been looking in the mirror.
“We watched the other championship games to get an understanding of other teams’ power play, penalty kill and face off plays, but the vast majority of our preparation has been on us,” he said.
“When we play with a ton of energy, that’s when we’re at our best.”
The anticipation has been building for about a year since Kamloops was awarded the 2023 Memorial Cup.
Stankoven said he knows the electricity and excitement is only going to grow as the tournament progresses — especially if the Blazers are able to capitalize on their fresh legs.
“We know teams are going to be really fast and the rink is going to be really loud. We’re expecting great crowds,” he said.
“We will have to manage all the highs and lows of the tourney, but we are all looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be a great week of hockey.”
The Memorial Cup champion will be crowned on June 4.
Castanet Kamloops is giving away two VIP passes to the Memorial Cup semifinal, which will be played at Sandman Centre on June 2.