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Kamloops Blazers' GM/HC Clouston talks WHL trade deadline, Memorial Cup bid, Pillar's status and COVID-19

Kamloops Blazers’ general manager and head coach Shaun Clouston has made two trades he expects will bolster depth and experience among his forward group.
1 Shaun Clouston & Darryl Sydor_9472 FEAT
Kamloops Blazers' head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston contracted COVID-19, but expects to be cleared to return to the ice on Tuesday.

Kamloops Blazers’ general manager and head coach Shaun Clouston has made two trades he expects will bolster depth and experience among his forward group.

Clouston acquired 19-year-old forward Ethan Rowland from the Red Deer Rebels on Monday, Jan. 10, in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2024 WHL Prospects Draft.

The pick could become a fourth-round selection depending on the number of games Rowland, a 5-foot-10 right shot from Calgary, plays for the Blazers.

Rowland, a first-round pick in the 2017 prospects draft, is recovering from an upper-body injury that will keep him out of the lineup until February.

On Saturday, Jan. 8, Clouston shipped a seventh-round pick in the 2022 prospects draft to the Edmonton Oil Kings in exchange for 18-year-old forward Kobe Verbicky, a 5-foot-10 left shot from Victoria.

“This was a depth thing,” Clouston said. “Our depth was exposed a little bit recently. We’ve got some really good, young hockey players, but we need to make sure if we get into an injury situation, we’re a little stronger, have a little more experience.”

Blazers’ forward Josh Pillar, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, is on the injury list (illness) and is expected to be out of the lineup for at least another month, Clouston told KTW.

B.C. Division-leading Kamloops (21-9-1-0) was ranked among the best teams in the Canadian Hockey League when featuring its top players during the first half of the season.

The club appears to have championship aspirations this season, hopes propped up by one of the top junior goaltenders in the country, 19-year-old Dylan Garand, who is expected to begin his professional career next season.

Kamloops is pegged as a team likely to add, but must take into consideration assets required for its bid for the 2023 Memorial Cup while operating prior to the Jan. 17 trade deadline.

“It’s a major balancing act,” Clouston said. “We have a real good chance at getting the Memorial Cup. We’re bidding on it. We’re optimistic. So, when you look at 17-and 18-year-old players, which is generally the age group other teams covet, first of all we like our players in that age group and, most importantly, they really factor into things next year.

“As a general manager, you want to give your players a bit of a boost of confidence and say we’re going to add right now because we believe this group has the ability to have some success moving forward and into the playoffs.

“We’re motivated to help our club as much as we possibly can this year without taking away from next year.”

Clouston noted there is some concern across the league about COVID-19 and its affect on the fate of the remainder of the 2021-2022 campaign.

“If there are bigger deals and there are really high draft picks being moved, there are going to be some conditions,” Clouston said.

“For me, personally, I’m fairly optimistic. My read is the league is very committed to pushing forward.”

The Blazers appear ready to push forward after most of the team, including Clouston, tested positive for COVID-19 on either Jan. 4 or Jan. 5.

Kamloops was slated to host Portland on Jan. 7 and Vancouver on Jan. 8, but those contests were postponed when the Blazers were forced to halt team operations.

“There’s a chance we can all be on the ice together tomorrow [Tuesday, Jan. 11] and, if not, everybody without symptoms, which I think is the vast majority of players, can for sure be on the ice together Wednesday,” Clouston said.

“In a strange way, for us and a lot of teams that have been hit so hard, the real fortunate thing is everything has been very mild. My experience has been a minor head cold.”

The WHL confirmed the Blazers-Winterhawks tilt slated for Jan. 12 in Portland has been moved to Jan. 16.

Kamloops is now scheduled to play the Tri-City Americans on Jan. 14 in Kennewick, Wash., the Chiefs in Spokane on Jan. 15 and the Winterhawks on Jan. 16 in Portland.

Clouston said the sizeable outbreak might help the team in the long run.

“You look at what’s happening in the NHL, there are some teams that it’s been going on for a month,” Clouston said. “They’re playing a little bit short and they’re always missing players.”

The few team members who tested negative were re-tested on Monday (Jan. 10).

“We’re hoping they’re negative again, but even if those players tested positive and had to continue to sit out and get through their six days, we still have enough players to continue on,” Clouston said.