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Sunday, April 3, 2011

One more dominant junior team for draft analysis: 1995 Kamloops Blazers

In the interest of not making the marathon draft analysis post we did on Friday night that much longer, we're coming back to fill in a hole in our sample pool by giving you a look at one of the most dominant amateur teams of the 1990's: the 1995 Kamloops Blazers, who won the second of back-to-back Memorial Cups that year. Until Windsor performed the feat a year ago, the Blazers were the last team to do it (with the 1987 and 1988 Medicine Hat Tigers getting it done before them).

The 1995 Blazers are a who's who of NHL stars and were coached by one of the best in the business: Don Hay, who currently is with the Vancouver Giants and coached them to a Memorial Cup championship in 2007, with Milan Lucic as the tournament MVP.

The 1994-95 regular season was a harbinger of things to come for the team who went 52-14-6, the best record of any of the Blazers teams who also won the Memorial Cup during that decade in '92 and '94. The '95 Blazers scored 375 goals and boasted significant firepower up front and on the back end. Believe it or not, that isn't even close to the team record they set in 1986-87, when they blitzed opponents for 496 goals. That was when some guy named Mark Recchi was on the team- you might have heard of him (and he's a part owner of the Blazers these days, too). That was the same season Rob Brown established WHL records for assists (136) and points (212).

Kamloops hosted the Memorial Cup that year so they had an automatic place at the table, yet that didn't stop them from doing it the right way by winning the WHL outright, beating the Brandon Wheat Kings in the league championship 4 games to 2. The ended up thrashing the OHL champion Detroit Jr. Red Wings (led by Bryan Berard) in the Memorial Cup title match by an 8-2 score. Two big-name NHLers and 1995 first-round draft picks were the MVP and Sportsmanship award winners- Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla. Nolan Baumgartner, Darcy Tucker and Doan were all named to the '95 Memorial Cup All-Star team.

Jarome Iginla scored 33 goals and 71 points in 72 games that year for the Blazers and ended up being the 11th overall pick by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 draft. Dallas made a move for the present during the 1995-96 season when they dealt Iginla's rights to Calgary as part of the Joe Nieuwendyk package. Dallas won the 1999 Stanley Cup with Nieuwendyk playing a big role, but Iginla has gone on to be a 50-goal (twice) man and 1,000 point scorer as the face of the Flames franchise- all 1,103 of his NHL games and counting have been played in Calgary and he's the captain and heart-and-soul of that team.

The seventh overall choice in the 1995 draft scored 37 goals and 94 points for the Blazers and like Iginla, is the captain of the only NHL team he's ever played for. Shane Doan made the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets as an 18-year-old after they drafted him, playing the final season there before the team moved to Phoenix the following year. In 1997-98, Doan split the season between the Coyotes and the Springfield Falcons of the AHL before becoming the consistent scoring presence and anchor he's been for the franchise since 1999-00, when he scored 26 goals. A two-time 30-goal man, Doan is closing in on 300 goals for his career (295) and has 736 career points.

Leading scorer Darcy Tucker had 64 goals and 137 points for the Blazers in as many games in his final WHL season and was a sixth-round selection of the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 (151st overall). He went on to be a polarizing figure in the NHL with the Canadiens, Lightning, Maple Leafs and Avalanche, being known as one of the dirtiest players in the NHL during his tenure from the 1995-96 through the 2009-10 seasons. He finished his NHL career with 947 games, 215 goals and 476 as a high-energy two-way, agitating forward.

The 1994 draft had a preponderance of Blazer players, starting with defenseman Nolan Baumgartner, who was selected 10th overall by the Washington Capitals. A mobile, two-way defender with a real edge in junior never could elevate his game at the NHL level after starring in Kamloops. Baumgartner played just 18 games for the Caps over five seasons, never scoring a goal for them. He then went to the Blackhawks, Canucks, Penguins, Canucks again, Flyers, Stars and Canucks for a third time (12-1-1-2 in '09-10). He spent the 2010-11 season with the Manitoba Moose and has played just 143 NHL games in his journeyman AHL career.

The Islanders took defenseman Jason Strudwick in the third round of the 1994 draft, 63rd overall. He has played 670 games with the Islanders, Canucks, Blackhawks, Rangers and Oilers.

Hnat Domenichelli was a fourth-round selection of the Hartford Whalers and posted back-to-back 52- and 59-goal seasons for the Blazers in 1995 and 1996 before turning pro. He played 267 NHL games with the Whalers, Flames, Thrashers and Wild from 1996-97 to 2002-03 before taking his talents to Switzerland where he has been with Ambri-Piotta and Lugano since 2003.

Brad Lukowich was also a fourth-round choice, taken 90th by the Islanders. He won a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 and Lightning in 2004. He's been a solid NHL role player with 657 games with the Stars, Lightning, Islanders, DevilS, Sharks and Canucks before returning again to the Stars organization.

Tyson Nash was a 10th-round selection by Vancouver in 1994, and the agitator extraordinaire played for the Blues and Coyotes for 374 games, notching 27 goals and 64 points to go with 673 penalty minutes. He is now a color man with the Phoenix network.

Verdict: While the 1995 draft produced two stars (and a Hall of Famer) in Iginla and Doan, the 1994 draft had much of the core of the 1995 Blazers, and never really panned out much at the NHL level. Baumgartner was expected to be a No. 1 and never even established himself as a big league regular. Hnat Domenichelli kicked around as a bottom-six for a few years, but eventually went to Europe without ever leaving much of a mark. Strudwick and Lukowich are solid role player types, with Lukowich having two Stanley Cup rings. Darcy Tucker was a product of the '93 draft, and was a notable NHL player if not a star during his near 1,000 game career.

Overall, the 1994 draft was not all that productive for the Blazers, but 1995 produced two of the NHL's more recognized and respected stars.

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