By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
JT Barnett can’t wait for Dec. 27.
It’s not that he is in a hurry for Christmas to come and go. Rather, he eagerly anticipates another meeting with the Vancouver Giants.
Barnett, a right winger from Scottsdale, Ariz., was acquired by the Kamloops Blazers from the Giants on July 30 for a second-round pick in the 2011 WHL bantam draft.
From the moment he was traded, Barnett had Oct. 9 and 11 on his calendar. Those were the dates of the first two of eight regular-season clashes between his new team and his old one.
The Blazers beat the host Giants 5-4 in overtime on Saturday night, then dropped a 5-4 decision at Interior Savings Centre on Monday.
“There was a lot of emotion behind it,” Barnett said of his weekend. “I’m glad that we got the win in Vancouver, but I would have liked to have the win here, too.
“No, I’m not glad they’re over. I’m excited for the next one.”
The next one is Dec. 27 when the Blazers open their post-Christmas schedule in Vancouver.
“It was different,” Barnett said of playing for the visiting team in Pacific Coliseum. “It was different dressing in the away locker-room. But I loved it. I liked it a lot.
“There was tons of emotion and it was probably one of the more exciting wins I’ve had.”
The Blazers got off to a good start Saturday, opening a 2-0 first-period lead and then having to come from behind to win in overtime on a goal by defenceman Linden Saip, who also started his WHL career with the Giants.
On Monday, the Blazers again got off to a good start but this time, while they outshot the Giants 8-0 in the early going, they weren’t able to score and soon found themselves trailing, 3-0.
“We were fired up for both games,” Barnett said. “Before both games, everybody was good in the locker-room. In the first game, we got off to a quick start with two goals in the first period.
“(On Monday), we got off to more of a slow start. As soon as (Vancouver) got the first one it kind of put us on our heels.”
With the Blazers (3-4-0-1) going into Kelowna to play the Rockets (2-4-0-0) tonight, Barnett knows that discipline will be a factor.
“We got a lot of penalties (Monday),” he said. “We have to really try to hold off on taking penalties. We just shoot ourselves in the foot. Really, we do.”
That, of course, has been an ongoing problem with the Blazers, who led the WHL last season in penalty minutes and power-play opportunities faced.
And guess who is leading the parade again this season? The Blazers have put up 252 minutes in eight games and only three other teams are over 200 — Vancouver, 235 in nine games, the Lethbridge Hurricanes (201/7) and the Prince Albert Raiders (201/9).
The Blazers have faced 49 opposition power plays, the fifth-highest total in the WHL. But their penalty-killing unit is ranked 19th, at 75.5 per cent. They have given up 12 power-play goals, a figure topped only by Prince Albert’s 13.
Against the Giants, the Blazers frequently found themselves tangled up in scrums near their goal.
“The Giants’ mentality is to go to the net . . . go to the net really hard,” Barnett said. “They do a good job on that and we have to make sure that we don’t take any penalties in front of the net which is where most of the penalties came (on Monday).”
As the Blazers go into Kelowna, Barnett finds himself playing on the Blazers’ No. 1 line, on the right side with centre Chase Schaber and left-winger Brendan Ranford.
Barnett, a 21-goal man last season, has seven points, including three goals, in eight games. His point total leaves him third on the team, behind Ranford, who has 12 points, and Schaber, who has 11.
The Rockets, meanwhile, have won their last two games, both in overtime, after opening the season with four straight losses.
Kelowna is coming off a weekend in which it played three games in as many nights and went 2-1-0-0. The Rockets lost 4-1 in Vancouver on Friday, beat the visiting Prince Albert Raiders 3-2 in OT on Saturday, and then came back from a 3-0 third-period deficit to beat the Silvertips in Everett 4-3 in a shootout on Sunday.
Tyson Barrie, voted the WHL’s top defenceman last season, has played only two games because of hamstring problems, while forward Shane McColgan, who had his tonsils out during training camp, has one assist in three games. Last season, Barrie led the Rockets with 72 points, while McColgan, then a 16-year-old freshman, had 69.
JUST NOTES: Blazers GM Craig Bonner said yesterday that it is “doubtful” that either RW Jordan DePape (shoulder) or RW Chase Souto (concussion) will play tonight. Both have missed four games. . . . The Blazers’ next home game is Friday against the Portland Winterhawks. Game time at Interior Savings Centre will be 7 p.m. . . . The Blazers have had 21 fights in the first eight games of the regular season. . . . Through five home games, the Blazers are averaging 4,022 fans. After five home games last season, the average was 4,309.
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