By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
The first axe to fall on a WHL coach this season came Monday when the Kamloops Blazers fired head coach Barry Smith.
Smith received his pink slip just 17 games into the season. He was in the second season of a three-year contract.
Smith came to Kamloops after spending six seasons as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. In his one-plus seasons at the helm of the Blazers he compiled a 41-40-4-4 record.
“Our results this year are not acceptable,” Kamloops general manager Craig Bonner said in a press release. “We will not tolerate being an average team at this stage. I particularly disliked our structure and the direction our team was headed, along with the lack of emotion we have shown of late. Since I saw little to suggest that the team was trying to make the adjustments necessary to turn our play around, we had little option but to make a change.”
On the surface it appears an odd time to make the move. The season is just 17 games old, Kamloops has an above-.500 record at 8-7-2-0, is in second place in the B.C. Division, and at one point was ranked in the top 10 in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
However, the team has fallen on hard times lately. The Blazers have lost five straight, and they have regularly allowed 50-plus shots in games this season. Kamloops has some of the best offensive talent in the league, but it hasn’t been enough to compensate for allowing a league-high 69 goals so far this season.
The expectations were raised in Kamloops this season. The new ownership group, which took over last season, is looking to return the once-proud franchise to its position of prominence following a decade-long lull. It was deemed the Blazers were not meeting those expectations under Smith.
“We want an aggressive type of play,” Bonner said. “We want an emotional and hard-working team. We want a team that’s not standing on its heels.”
Assistant coach Scott Ferguson takes over the head coaching duties on an interim basis. Assistant Geoff Smith remains in place, but in a more enhanced role. Their first game in charge is Friday at home against Chilliwack.
Around the WHL
For the second straight season the Lethbridge Hurricanes received an unexpected gift in the return of defenseman Luca Sbisa. Sbisa, who played 39 games for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers last season as an 18-year-old before being returned to Lethbridge, was reassigned by the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks (where he was traded) after eight games this season. … Red Deer acquired 18-year-old defenseman Aaron Borejko from Kelowna in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2010 bantam draft. … Edmonton picked up 19-year-old forward Josh Koper from Medicine Hat for 17-year-old defenseman Austin Bourhis. … Calgary goaltender Martin Jones set a new franchise record for victories when the 19-year-old beat Seattle 4-1 Sunday for his 78th win with the Hitmen. … Swift Current forward Cody Eakin signed an entry-level contract with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. The 18-year-old Eakin was a third-round pick in this year’s NHL draft. … Calgary’s Brandon Kozun was named the WHL Player of the Week. The 19-year-old forward had three goals and six assists as the Hitmen went 4-0.
Points — Brandon Kozun (Calgary) 27; goals — Cody Eakin (Swift Current) 15; assists — Kozun 19; penalty minutes — Randy McNaught (Saskatoon) 70; wins — Drew Owsley (Tri-City) 11; goals against average — Michael Snider (Calgary) 2.11; save percentage — Snider .924.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog