Blazers prepare for post-season run ahead of first Memorial Cup appearance since 1995

Just because the Kamloops Blazers are guaranteed a Memorial Cup berth, doesn't mean they're taking their feet off the gas.

Blazers general manager Shaun Clouston made big moves ahead of the Western Hockey League's trade deadline, gearing his team up for a deep post-season run.

He did all that even though Kamloops is hosting the Memorial Cup, making the Blazers the only team with a guaranteed berth in the national major junior championship.

"We know we're in the tournament, so we're looking forward to that. But as of right now, it's 'let's get better, let's continue on with our normal process which has improvement as the centrepiece," said Clouston. "Let's get ready for playoffs. We've got a lot of hockey between now and the start of playoff let's really work on our team game."

The Blazers haven't won a Memorial Cup since 1995, when they beat the Ontario Hockey League's Detroit Junior Red Wings 8-2 in the tournament's final. That was also the last time Kamloops played in or hosted the tournament.

Those droughts will end on May 26 when they face the eventual Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions in the tournament's opening game.

Clouston said that returning to the tournament and hosting the event means a lot to the community.

"We've seen that excitement, build and grow," said Clouston. "Our attendance has been terrific. The support has been terrific, it means a lot.

"It's a community that really embraces the team, they embrace a hard working team, they get behind their players. I think it means a lot to the community coming out of COVID and things starting to feel normal."

Clouston made some aggressive moves ahead of the WHL deadline to keep the Blazers competitive.

Kamloops acquired 19-year-old defenceman Olen Zellweger and 20-year-old forward Ryan Hofer on Jan. 8 in exchange for 17-year-old defenceman Kaden Hammell, 20-year-old forward Drew Englot, 17-year-old defenceman prospect Rylan Pearce, 15-year-old forward prospect Jack Bakker and nine WHL Prospect draft picks and one conditional draft pick.

The Blazers also got the rights to 19-year-old defenceman Daylan Weigel from the Swift Current Broncos on Jan. 10 in exchange for a 2026 ninth round WHL prospects pick. Weigel plays with the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Zellweger was Clouston's main target as he has won three gold medals for Canada in as many years, winning at the 2021 under-18 world championship as well as the 2022 and 2023 world juniors.

"We felt that we needed a top-pairing D-man and we were able to, to acquire arguably the top guy in our league," said Clouston of Zellweger. "We wanted to also add another forward, either an upgrade or a depth forward.

"We were able to accomplish both of those."

Kamloops (25-8-6) has won four straight to sit second in the WHL's Western Conference standings and hosts the Tri-City Americans on Friday at the Sandman Centre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press