Blackburn loving life as a Warrior

The last time Liam Blackburn was on the ice at the Prince George Coliseum was way back on Nov. 25, 2014.

Blackburn collected a pair of goals for the West Kelowna Warriors in a 7-4 loss to the host Prince George Spruce Kings during a regular-season B.C. Hockey League game.

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Blackburn was back in his hometown Coliseum on the weekend, this time as an alumni coach with the Cariboo Cougars during the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League team's summer evaluation camp.

Blackburn suited up for the midget Cougars in 2012-13 before turning his attention to the BCHL, first as a Spruce King and then the last two seasons for the Warriors.

"I love coming back to Prince George and seeing the guys and lots of the other guys I played against in the junior leagues," said the 19-year-old forward who's spending his summer working in Kelowna as a labourer for his cousin's construction company. "It's great seeing them and we all go back talking about all the memories we have."

He has fond memories from his only season as a Cariboo Cougar and had advice to share with the team.

"It was definitely a year in my career where I had a lot of opportunities," he said. "I was a two-way player and put some points up. I had options with the BCHL and WHL (Western Hockey League).

"I tell them you have to pay attention to detail. If (head coach Trevor) Sprague says 'I want the middle lane driven through,' you do it. He hasn't changed too much. Some of Sprague's advice has stayed with me."

The BCHL route has been good to Blackburn.

The five-foot-10, 167-pound forward put up solid numbers in his first year as a Warrior in 2013-14 with 17 goals and 26 assists.

Last season was a breakthrough year for him as he improved his point total by 30 points. He led the Warriors in scoring with 22 goals and 51 assists for a total of 73 points in 55 games. At one point in the season he was the league's leading point-getter but finished a respectable seventh overall.

"I started the season with a couple of goals in the first game and everything started clicking from the start," said Blackburn. "I was playing with Dante Hahn and Jordan Masters at the start, and then Hahn was traded.

"Compared to the first season, I was a lot stronger and a little faster. I had more strength and size and more ice time. I was on the first line, as well as the first penalty-killing and power-play units. My coach (Rylan Ferster) gave me a lot of opportunities."

His sizzling season secured him an NCAA Division 1 full-ride scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, where he'll suit up for the Wildcats beginning in his freshman 2016-17 season.

"Right from when I went into the BCHL, I had a goal of the NCAA," he said. "They play in the Hockey East, a great conference and every team is so close to each other."

Blackburn is entering his final season with West Kelowna and will try to help the Warriors improve on their fourth-place 29-21-0-8 finish of last season. They'd also like to get past the first round of the playoffs in the Interior Division.

Individually, Blackburn would like to put up similar numbers as last season.

"I know it will be a lot harder and guys know me now and will be checking me," he said. "This year, we have a lot better team - better d-men, they're all returning - and better goaltending this year. It's one of the best teams I've been part of with a lot of veterans. A lot of guys coming in will be our top guys."

One thing he doesn't miss with the Warriors is the long road trips like he endured as part of Prince George minor hockey teams and the midget Cougars.

Most nights on road trips, he gets to sleep in his own bed in West Kelowna as the Warriors often return home after games in Penticton, Vernon, Salmon Arm and even those in the Lower Mainland. The only time they don't is on extended trips to visit their Vancouver Island rivals.

Other alumni coaches at the Cariboo Cougars summer camp included Stephen Penner and Braiden Epp of the Spruce Kings, Seb Lloyd (who's going into his sophomore season at Harvard University) and Austin Gray, who is a Portland Winterhawks prospect.

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