By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Vancouver Giants played rope-a-dope with the Kamloops Blazers on Monday afternoon at Interior Savings Centre.
After allowing the Blazers to build an 8-0 edge in shots, the Giants delivered a knockout punch by scoring three straight goals. In the end, the Blazers never were able to get back on equal footing and the Giants left town with a 5-4 victory.
The game was played before 3,842 fans, the smallest crowd to watch Vancouver play here since the Giants entered the WHL for the 2001-02 season.
Last season, Vancouver won 10 of 12 games with the Blazers — the Giants went 6-1-0-1 in the regular season and then swept Kamloops from a first-round playoff series. (With overtime and shootouts, the Blazers were 2-2-1-3 in the regular-season games.)
The Blazers, however, opened this season’s series with a 5-4 overtime victory in Vancouver on Saturday night.
But the magic didn’t last long yesterday, despite the fact the Blazers were dominant in the early going.
“We got three out of four points, so we’re pretty happy about that,” offered Giants head coach Don Hay, whose club is 5-3-1-0 and, yes, atop the B.C. Division. “I thought they were really good early and our young goalie was outstanding.”
That young goalie is Brendan Jensen, a 17-year-old from El Granada, Calif., who spent most of last season with the NAHL’s Wenatchee Wild.
“He wants to get more ice and with his performance today, coming in and finding a way to get a win, he’ll get rewarded,” Hay said.
Jensen finished with 35 saves and a case could be made for his play being the difference. Jensen, who normally backs up Mark Segal, definitely won the goaltending battle.
Kamloops starter Jeff Bosch struggled with rebound control. He gave up four goals on 19 shots, three on rebounds and one on a re-direct on which he had no chance. Jon Groenheyde came on in relief and stopped 10 of 11 shots. But the one that got past him was a weak shot from the right boards. To make matters worse, it came just 1:26 after the home boys had gotten to within one, at 4-3.
The game was six minutes old before the Giants got their first shot, a slapper from the point by defenceman David Musil. Winger Matt Bellerive put in the rebound for his first WHL goal.
“We didn’t get the goal; we didn’t get the save,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said of the game’s first few minutes.
After pausing, he added: “Then again, it’s from a turnover. It’s your best players . . . if they keep turning the puck over, it’s not going to happen. They have to be more disciplined in those areas and until they buy in . . .”
When Vancouver winger Brendan Gallagher, with his eighth, and defenceman Luke Fenske, with his first, gave Vancouver a 3-0 lead before the second period was four minutes old, it looked like school was out.
After Kamloops centre Colin Smith and Vancouver’s James Henry exchanged goals, the Giants took a 4-1 lead into the game’s second half. With their track record — they have won five straight division titles — this one certainly appeared over.
Except that Bellerive drilled Kamloops captain Chase Schaber from behind at the Blazers bench, at 10:20, and drew a major and game misconduct. (Bellerive almost certainly will draw a one- or two-game suspension.)
The Blazers (3-4-0-1) promptly got a power-play goal from defenceman Linden Saip, who began his WHL career with the Giants, and a couple of minutes later added another PP score from defenceman Austin Madaisky.
But hope was extinguished 86 seconds later when Vancouver’s Dalton Sward beat Groenheyde from the right boards.
“If things go perfect, goaltending plays well, you’re scoring goals, you can afford to make those kinds of mistakes,” Charron said. “When things are tough, you’re not scoring goals in abundance, goaltending has been unsteady, we can’t afford to make those mistakes.
“We have to be a lot better defensively and a lot smarter when we have possession of the puck.”
The Giants, as they did all of last season and again in the playoffs, got strong efforts from Gallagher and centre Craig Cunningham. It’s a show with which Charron grew all too familiar last spring.
“It’s a frustrating one for me . . . we just haven’t found a way to win . . . we just don’t know how to win,” Charron said. “I will always be amazed that Gallagher and Cunningham continuously play as much as they play and they still outwork some of our guys. That bothers me immensely.”
On Saturday, the Blazers coughed up a 2-0 lead and trailed 4-3 before winning on Saip’s goal at 3:23 of overtime.
Linemates Brendan Ranford and Schaber each had a goal and two assists, while JT Barnett, the third member of that unit, and winger Dylan Willick also scored for Kamloops. Willick pulled Kamloops into a 4-4 tie at 13:46 of the third period.
The Giants got goals from Matt MacKay, Cunningham, Marek Tvrdon and Gallagher.
Bosch stopped 34 shots, nine more than Mark Segal.
JUST NOTES: On Monday, referees Trevor Hanson and Pat Smith gave each team seven minors, with Vancouver taking four of seven majors and one game misconduct. The Blazers took the lone misconduct. . . . Kamloops was 2-for-7 on the PP; the Giants were 0-for-5. . . . Vancouver RW Randy McNaught was taken to hospital for X-rays after getting tangled with Kamloops RW Ryan Hanes at 14:57 of the first period. The X-rays were negative, but McNaught was on crutches after the game. “It’s not broken so that’s a good sign,” Hay said. “It’s probably sprained.” McNaught is to be re-evaluated today. . . . Prior to yesterday, the smallest crowd to watch the Giants play here was 4,114 on Sept. 24, 2008. This was Vancouver’s 36th trip to Kamloops. . . . The Blazers next play Wednesday against the Rockets in Kelowna. Kamloops is at home to the Portland Winterhawks on Friday. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. LW Jordan Martinook, Vancouver: Solid in both ends; 2. Jensen: Won goaltending battle; 3. Henry: Around the puck all game and had Gordie Howe hat trick.
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