By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Jordan DePape and Colin Smith haven’t played together a whole lot during their time with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.
You wouldn’t have known it Friday night.
DePape had a goal and two assists, with Smith getting one of each, as the Blazers got past the Kelowna Rockets 3-2 in an exhibition game played before 1,239 fans at Interior Savings Centre.
“We didn’t have time to get chemistry together,” DePape said of the limited time the two spent on the same line after he was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings in December.
Head coach Guy Charron threw the two of them together earlier this week, with freshman Lyndon Martell on the left side, and away they went.
“We were in the top two lines tonight,” DePape said, “and we finally had some bounces go our way.”
The Blazers (2-1) started slowly in this one — Charron admits to having had a few things to say in the first intermission — and trailed 1-0 after winger Jessey Astles went in alone and beat goaltender Jon Groenheyde before the game was three minutes old.
“I was very disappointed in the first period,” Charron said. “I didn’t think our team came out with any kind of energy. They were beating us to the puck. That was simply not good enough for us to create an identity. But we found a way to get ourselves back into it.”
Asked if he had delivered a message in the first intermission, Charron replied: “Oh, yeah. . . . oh, yeah. The season has started already.”
That message, he said, was this: “Some guys were getting an opportunity to (show) if they want to be on the team and no one was doing it.”
The Blazers, however, put it together over the last two periods.
DePape pulled the home boys even with a wicked snapshot — he looked pass first, creating an inch under the crossbar — that beat goaltender Chase Martin from a bad angle on the right side early in the second.
It stayed that way until the third when Kamloops defenceman Brady Gaudet, a 16-year-old who had a solid night, snapped a shot past goaltender Jordon Cooke from the high slot during a power play.
“He made a great play on the power play,” Charron said of Gaudet. “It was the kind of good decision that good players make. They look to the other side and throw it at the net. I was pleased with his game.”
The Rockets got back even just 22 seconds later, at 4:20, when Slovakian forward Gal Koren took advantage of some sloppy coverage in front of Groenheyde and banged home a loose puck from the right side of the crease.
The Rockets had a chance to win it in the last minute, but botched a 2-on-1 break. That led to Smith and DePape going 2-on-1 the other way, with Smith using a hesitation move before beating Cooke at 19:41.
A smiling DePape admitted the Blazers didn’t want to play overtime, “especially early in the season when you’re trying to get your legs back.”
The two standouts, from a Kamloops perspective, were Groenheyde and Gaudet.
Groenheyde, 19, stopped 20 shots and looked in complete control.
“I thought he played very well,” Charron said. “He was in control of his rebounds. He held the puck when he had to. He gets high ratings from us tonight.”
Groenheyde, who is just building his resume as a starting goaltender in this league, also was in control of his emotions. He didn’t get into anything close to a dustup with any of the visitors who taxied through his crease.
Gaudet, the Blazers’ first pick in the 2009 bantam draft, took a step towards earning a roster spot with his performance in this one.
“I really liked his game,” said Charron, who feels that Gaudet was tentative for a lot of training camp. “He’s a young guy. . . . now maybe he’s starting to get a bit of a comfort zone.”
Gaudet’s comfort zone may grow today as Landon Cross, the only other 16-year-old defenceman on the roster, returns home to Brandon. That leaves Kamloops with 26 players, including nine defencemen.
Groenheyde will be in goal again tonight when the teams meet at Prospera Place in Kelowna.
“He needs to play,” Charron explained, adding that whether backup Troy Trombley plays depends on “how the game goes.”
And if you’re wanting to read a whole lot into either game, in terms of how these teams might do in the regular season, forget it.
A total of 14 veterans were missing. The Blazers have six players either at or on their way to NHL camps, while the Rockets were shy eight veterans, including centre Shane McColgan, who is at home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., dealing with swollen tonsils.
JUST NOTES: D Bronson Maschmeyer served as the Blazers’ captain, with D Brandon Underwood, C Dalibor Bortnak and C Colin Smith the alternates. . . . The Blazers close out their exhibition season next weekend by going home-and-home with the Prince George Cougars. They’ll play here Friday and in the north country on Saturday.