By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers began serious preparations for their playoff opener on Monday.
The Blazers, who begin a first-round series with the visiting Victoria Royals on Friday, did it with centre Matt Needham on the ice and right-winger JC Lipon nowhere to be found.
Needham sat out the regular-season’s last 13 games with an undisclosed injury. Needham, who finished with 33 points, including 12 goals, in 15 games, last played on Feb. 15.
Yesterday, he was wearing a yellow (non-contact) jersey and looked to be skating easily as he centred Tim Bozon and Dylan Willick.
Needham, in his second WHL season, had shown terrific improvement as the winter wore on and had become one of the Blazers’ top defensive forwards and penalty-killers.
Lipon finished his fourth WHL season with 89 points, including 36 goals, in 61 games. He was ill yesterday so was told to stay home to cut down on the risk of other players getting sick.
Lipon practised in yellow late last week and then sat out the last two regular-season games with what the team said was an “upper body injury.” Head coach Guy Charron said that Lipon ran the risk of aggravating his injury with contact and that the time off would be good for him.
With Lipon not skating, the Blazers had freshman Mitch Friesen in his spot alongside centre Brendan Ranford and Cole Ully. They also moved Chase Souto into Bozon’s spot with centre Colin Smith and Kale Kessy.
A fourth line featured Nick Chyzowski with Aaron Macklin and Josh Connolly.
Forward Deven Sideroff, who had a goal and an assist in his second WHL game, Saturday’s 7-0 victory over the Cougars in Prince George, has returned to his midget team at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.
Centre Joe Kornelsen, who missed the last six games with a leg injury, was in Interior Savings Centre but didn’t skate. It is looking more and more like Kornelsen, a 19-year-old from Abbotsford who had 12 points in 60 games and provides experienced depth, won’t be ready to open against the Royals.
Victoria will be without centre Alex Gogolev, its leading scorer, after he underwent surgery to repair damage from a skate cut to his left leg.
Neither goaltender Patrik Polivka nor defenceman Tyler Stahl, both of whom have undisclosed injuries, practised yesterday. Both are expected to at least skate today.
Victoria forward Trent Lofthouse, who hasn’t played since Jan. 31, was out of the yellow jersey and back to full practice yesterday. Lofthouse, who was acquired from the Everett Silvertips during the season, is the son of former New Westminster Bruins star Mark Lofthouse.
There are other WHL teams with some injury concerns, too.
The Kelowna Rockets revealed yesterday that centre Colton Sissons, their captain, will miss up to 12 weeks with what is believed to be a shoulder injury.
Sissons, a 19-year-old from North Vancouver, is their MVP and top defensive forward. He wasn’t able to finish Kelowna’s 6-2 victory over the host Giants on Friday night after being involved in a collision with Vancouver defenceman Mason Geertsen. Sissons had one arm in a sling at Kelowna’s awards banquet on Sunday.
Sissons, who had 67 points in 61 games, missed 10 games with a concussion earlier in the season, an injury that caused him to miss the Canadian national junior team’s December selection camp in Calgary. The Rockets went 8-2-0 while Sissons was injured.
The Rockets, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, open against the No. 7 Seattle Thunderbirds in Kelowna on Friday night.
In Saskatoon, the Blades, the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed and the host team for the Memorial Cup, have played five games without winger Michael Ferland. However, he is back practising and should play Thursday when the Blades open at home against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
In Portland, the Winterhawks, who had the WHL’s best regular-season record, were without starting goaltender Mac Carruth, who didn’t finish a 4-1 victory in Victoria on March 12, for their last three games. But he skated lightly on Sunday and is expected to start Friday against the visiting Everett Silvertips.
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