Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blazers struggle at home — again

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The face on the video screen at Interior Savings Centre belonged to a youngster who appeared to be only a month or two old. The look on his face told you he wasn’t happy.
Just another Kamloops Blazers fan trying to figure out his favourite WHL team.
The Blazers, coming off three straight road victories, gave up four first-period goals Wednesday night and went on to drop a 6-4 decision to the Brandon Wheat Kings before 3,808 fans.
It was after Brandon’s fourth goal, a power-play effort with one second left in the first period, that the young fan’s howling countenance appeared on the video screen.
At that point, the Wheat Kings were 2-for-3 on the power play and had four goals on 10 shots. They finished with three PP goals in 10 opportunities and six goals on 31 shots.
The Blazers (7-7-1) were 17-for-17 on the penalty kill in winning those three road games while surrendering four goals on 100 shots.
“It was disappointing,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said of last night’s effort. “If you were to tell me that our team would have reacted the way they did tonight, I would have said, ‘No . . . that it was almost impossible.’
“I guess there’s lots to learn.”
The Blazers now have lost four straight home games. In fact, they are only 2-6-0 at home.
“We have to establish a style of play that is going to make it difficult for teams to come in and play,” Charron said. “Obviously, the game plan wasn’t really followed and we allowed the other team to build momentum. When that happens you put yourself behind the 8-ball.”
Last night, the Blazers found themselves behind the 16-ball. Once again, it wasn’t that they lost — it was how they lost.
Beaten 8-6 by the Portland Winterhawks and 8-1 by the Prince George Cougars in their last two home appearances, this time they fell behind 5-0 before the second period was five minutes old.
The Wheat Kings (6-9-0) were playing the sixth game in an eight-game road swing. They had snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Rockets in Kelowna on Tuesday night.
“Once you get on a roll with something it kind of keeps going like that,” said Brandon captain Shayne Wiebe, who played the first 171 games of his WHL career with the Blazers. “Eventually, you’re going to get out of it . . . you just have to keep working.”
Which is what the Wheat Kings did, even as the Blazers tried to mount a comeback.
Wiebe, who scored the winner in Kelowna, got his club started, scoring on the power play before the game was two minutes old.
“It was a nice feeling,” he said of scoring in what once was his home arena.
Forward Jason Swyripa and defencemen Ryan Pulock, who also had two assists, and Brodie Melnychuk added Brandon goals before the period ended, the latter one coming with one second showing on the clock.
Charron sent goaltender Jon Groenheyde in to replace Jeff Bosch for the start of the second period, and the hole got even deeper when forward Mark Stone scored on a power play at 4:44.
“Our penalty killing was outstanding on the road,” Charron said. “Tonight, it was nowhere near what it was on the road. Why? It’s the same people.”
As for changing goaltenders, Charron said his side didn’t play well in front of Bosch.
“We exposed him more than we should,” Charron reasoned. “Our success on the road was based on good defensive hockey. Tonight, we didn’t do any of that. Why? That’s a good question.”
Forwards Jordan DePape, who was acquired from Brandon in exchange for Wiebe, Brendan Ranford and Dalibor Bortnak provided some hope with second-period goals in a span of 4:47.
Centre Chase Schaber got the Blazers to within one at 15:42 of the third, but that was it.
Brandon’s Mark Mieritz, a freshman from Denmark, scored his first WHL goal into an empty net at 19:36.
And just like that a team that two nights ago was on a nine-game losing streak now has won two in a row.
“That’s the biggest thing . . . making sure you don’t get too frustrated,” Wiebe said of losing nine in a row. “But when you keep working hard, if you keep pushing and working, things will start to work your way. Bounces will start coming your way, like they weren’t when you were in the losing streak.”
The Wheat Kings are off to Cranbrook for a Friday night engagement with the Kootenay Ice.
Kelly McCrimmon, Brandon’s owner, general manager and head coach, said he used last season’s Ice team as an example for his club during its losing streak. When last season’s Wheat Kings went into Cranbrook on Oct. 30, the Ice was 5-11-0; it beat the Wheat Kings 2-1 to start a 38-13-5 run to season’s end.
The Wheat Kings, the host team and a finalist in last spring’s Memorial Cup, are hoping to duplicate that.
The Blazers, meanwhile, will start preparations today for a Saturday night visit by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Charron said he tried to impress upon his guys that this three-game homestand — the Rockets are here Wednesday — is as important as last week’s three road games.
“We had a focus . . . we had a game plan on the road,” he explained. “I thought we had a very similar focus and game plan at home but obviously we didn’t execute it.
“On the road, I thought we were focused right from the get-go.”
It is that focus the Blazers will try to rediscover before Saturday.
JUST NOTES: Referees Steve Papp and Andy Thiessen somehow found a way to hand out 19 minors, 11 of them to the Blazers. Each team took a fighting major. . . . The Blazers were 1-for-7 on the power play. . . . Brandon last played here on Oct. 26, 2008, when it lost 3-1. . . . The Wheat Kings flew in F Mark Ferland, who had missed the last 11 games with a knee injury. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Pulock: First WHL goal, two assists, blocked shots, made plays; 2. Stone: A goal, two assists, lots of ice time; 3. F Scott Glennie, Brandon: Three assists.

gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca
gdrinnan.blogspot.com
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