If Matt Bardsley was strutting around Mark Recchi Way on Monday morning, looking like Vince McMahon power-striding toward a ring at Wrestlemania, there was a reason for the confident gait.
The Kamloops Blazers’ general manager made two trades last Monday, shipping out two of the team’s top four scorers and receiving very little firepower in return.
He assured fans the deals, which brought two depth players and four draft picks to Kamloops, did not indicate the team is throwing in the towel for the second half of this season.
Instead, he said the trades that sent 19-year-old defenceman Nolan Kneen to Saskatoon and 20-year-old forward Luc Smith to Spokane are designed to open up opportunity for current players who may benefit from increased ice time, while also acquiring draft capital.
Quinn Schmiemann, a 17-year-old defenceman who was behind Kneen on the depth chart, had a breakout weekend.
The Wilcox, Sask., product scored the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory over Saskatoon (17-9-3-0) on Friday and racked up three points, including one goal, in a 6-3 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds (9-13-3-0) on Saturday.
Brodi Stuart, an 18-year-old forward who has struggled to find his stride this season, was moved up to centre the first line, playing between left-wing Orrin Centazzo and right-wing Zane Franklin.
The Langley product only registered one assist on the weekend, but the line combined for seven points and Stuart — who was 22-for-43 in the face-off circle — received praise from 20-year-old captain Jermaine Loewen and head coach Serge Lajoie.
“I like Brodi Stuart in the middle,” Lajoie said. “Brodi is a no-nonsense guy. He works hard. It was a good weekend for those three.”
Added Loewen: “Stuey going up with the top line, I thought he filled in quite nicely. I think he was one of the guys who provided a lot of energy and played hard.”
Franklin, who was acquired by Bardsley in summer swap with Lethbridge, scored the Teddy Bear-toss marker on Saturday and leads Kamloops (11-11-1-1) with 16 goals.
Connor Zary, a 17-year-old forward from Saskatoon who is off to a slower-than-expected start, could have ran the Broadway Bridge eight times with the energy he expended celebrating his game-tying goal in the third period on Friday.
His primal yell was perhaps heard on the shores of the South Saskatchewan River and his leap into the glass was a window into a snakebitten player’s relief and jubilation.
Relief and jubilation were felt by all the Blazers, who entered the weekend with a record of 2-6-0-1 at Sandman Centre — and with some fans questioning the GM’s intentions for 2018-2019.
Bardsley, of course, was almost certainly not parading around Blazers’ headquarters like the WWE’s billionaire owner.
He is aware of recent inconsistent tendencies and there is no reason to get too high after two wins.
A four-game losing skid silenced the Blazers’ pop after their only four-game winning streak of the season.
Kamloops was powerbombed to seven straight defeats, including a pair of falls to the Victoria Royals on Vancouver Island, after posting back-to-back victories over the Kelowna Rockets to open the season.
Those same Royals will be looking to clothesline the Blazers back to earth again on Wednesday at Sandman Centre.