Quick Look: Bellingham Blazers
The Bellingham Blazers are shaping up to be a team that can roll with multiple lines and maintain consistency for a full 60-minutes. The Blazers finished third in the Northwest Division with 59 points (28-20-3). They were actually tied with the Tahoe Ice Men for second in the division but lost the tiebreaker having lost in all six meetings to them.
Last year was the second season for the Blazers who improved on their inaugural season’s sixth place divisional finish. Going into their third season of WSHL play, this is a team that has tested the waters and is ready to jump in full swing.
“We made some good strides last year,” Head Coach Mark Collins said. “We would have liked to make it a little deeper into the playoffs but we ran into a tough team in Tahoe at the end and we had some injuries that we couldn’t recover from.”
“I think we will be a deep team with a veteran group of guys and hard to play against,” Collins said. “ We want to make it tough for every team who plays us.”
Bellingham understands how to consistently use the hard-to-play-against formula winning 16 of their last 18 games leading up to the Tahoe playoff series. The only hump they couldn’t get over was beating Tahoe.
Part of that formula carries over with the team this year and Coach Collins feels pretty optimistic in his side going forward. The majority of players are returning and when a core group of guys can return healthily, it is a big indicator of where things can go.
“Our core group of guys are all very positive people, first of all, and very good leaders,” Collins said. “Everything starts with them, in practice, having the proper effort and doing things the right way. I typically have younger teams and this is one of the older teams I’ve had.”
(Mark Mauno Photo of Thomas Steven, Bellingham Blazers)
A trio of forwards to note that are returning for Bellingham are Jamahl Eakett (32-31-63), Robbie Eichelberger (16-37-53) and Thomas Steven (21-20-41). Each had two goals in post-season play and a combined 14 assists for 20-points.
The departure of their leading goal scorer, Ruslan Novruzov (53-49-102) leaves a sure void. Novruzov signed for MHK Spartak Moskva in the top junior league in Russia. Collins confirmed that there is still an internal battle to determine who can step in to continue that point production. The Blazers had four other players score more than 15 goals and a total of six players who had 30 points or more.
“That will be a hole in the lineup that we definitely need to work on,” Collins said. “We may not be as high scoring as we were last year so we will need to find different ways to win games.”
Christoffer Fogelberg is shaping up to be a key new player for the Blazers that can make an impactful contribution. The Swedish left-winger may need an adjustment period as he only played in 12 games for Bäken HC J20 scoring three goals and posting two helpers last season.
"He’s a real talented kid and it will just be about finding a good fit for him in the lineup to be able to score goals,” Collins said. In short, the Blazers return a hefty group from last year that will benefit from age and experience. Bellingham was really close to moving forward in the playoffs with potent talent upfront. Although some of that talent has left, the foundation is there and it will be a more versatile team than years past.