By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
When the chips were down Wednesday night, the Kamloops Blazers reverted to, well, the Kamloops Blazers.
The Blazers took a 2-1 lead into the third period, ran into penalty problems, gave up three power-play goals and dropped a 5-2 decision to the Kelowna Rockets in a WHL game played before 3,746 fans.
That is the smallest regular-season crowd ever to watch the Rockets play at Interior Savings Centre and the 11th-smallest regular-season crowd in the facility's history.
The Rockets (6-10-0) won for the second night in a row; they beat the visiting Prince George Cougars 6-2 on Tuesday.
The Blazers (8-8-1) had won four of five, including a 3-2 overtime victory over the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds on Sunday.
“We found a way to beat Seattle,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “We kept plugging away.
“I think we had ample opportunities to be successful tonight but it wasn't enough. . . . I wasn't pleased with the level of competing. We need more effort from everybody to be more successful.
“At the end of the day, your best players have to be your best players. Tonight, I thought their best players were their best players.”
Still, the Blazers took a 2-1 lead into the third period against a Kelowna team they had beaten 5-4 on the road on Oct. 13.
In the second intermission, Charron said, the Blazers talked about what they needed to do. They wanted to stay away from bad penalties and turnovers, and to get the puck in deep.
“We all know what we need to do,” Charron said, “but when we're out there we don't do it.”
Two minutes into the period, winger Bernhard Keil took an interference call when he hit Kelowna forward Geordie Wudrick from behind. Defenceman Damon Severson promptly scored his first WHL goal on the power play.
Seven minutes later, Kamloops defenceman Brady Gaudet was sent off for tripping and power forward Mitchell (Dirty Harry) Callahan struck on the power play.
Moments prior to the goal, Kamloops forward Shayne Neigum had slashed defenceman Tyson Barrie. So the Rockets were presented with another power-play opportunity.
This time it was centre Shane McColgan beating goaltender Jeff Bosch, who finished with 27 saves.
Just like that the Blazers' 2-1 lead had turned into a 4-2 deficit.
“Whether Keil deserved a penaty or not, he still put himself (in that position),” Charron said. “The penalty to Neigum . . . he's killing a penalty, he's already been out there too long and then he ends up getting a slashing (penalty).
“The discipline of our players is the identity of how they are as players. We have to learn, we have to . . . I don't know what else to say.”
The bottom line is that the Blazers got outworked. As the game wore on, the Rockets simply gave them a lesson in how to win by working.
“We don't want to take steps back, that's the most important thing,” Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said. “I liked our effort the last two games.
“Our power play has come to play for us the last little while, too. I think that's just guys settling down, making plays when they're there and capitalizing on the chances.”
Last night, it was the Rockets' best players doing the capitalizing.
Callahan had a goal and three assists, all in the third period, giving him eight points in two games. McColgan finished with a goal and two assists, and Barrie had two assists.
“He's been our best player all season,” Huska said of Callahan, who has 18 points in 16 games after a sophomore season in which he finished with 47 points and 165 penalty minutes in 72 games. “Every night he's been the same way. He's getting rewarded. He's a guy with good skill. He's been in four fights. He's still doing everything we're asking him to do. He's killing penalties and turning into one of our key faceoff guys.
“I wish I had 20 more of him.”
Huska, of course, played four WHL seasons with the Blazers, putting up 162 points in 247 games. Asked if he ever had eight points over two games, he laughed and said: “Gawd, no!”
Callahan, who has signed with the Detroit Red Wings who took him in the sixth round of the NHL’s 2009 draft, said it was a case of the Rockets gunning for two victories in as many nights.
“The momentum from (Tuesday) carried over,” said the 19-year-old from Whittier, Calif., as he flashed a Bobby Clarke-type grin. “We stuck to our systems, stuck to our structure. We stayed with the little things we need to do to win hockey games. It was a greasy road game.”
He also pointed out that they got a solid effort from goaltender Adam Brown, who made 37 saves in what was his 100th WHL game.
“He's been fantastic lately,” Callahan said. “The last couple of games he has stood on his head. He's been maybe the best player on our team so far.”
According to Huska one of the keys to improved play for his guys is that Barrie, who last season was named the WHL’s top defenceman, is just now getting back to form after an early-season hamstring injury.
“Tyson has been the big thing,” said Huska, who added that he saw some rust in Barrie’s game when he first returned. “The last couple of games he has started to look more comfortable. That’s been a big difference in how our group has been.”
Forward Colton Heffley, playing his second game since joining the Rockets from the midget AAA Swift Current Legionnaires, scored his first WHL goal in the second period, while Kelowna got its other goal, an empty-netter, from winger Brett Bulmer.
Winger Chase Souto, with his first WHL goal, and defenceman Austin Madaisky replied for the Blazers.
The Rockets, who got off to a tough start, and that’s putting it mildly, are two games into a stretch where they will play four B.C. Division teams over four nights.
“This is huge for us,” Callahan said. “We’re last in the conference and these division games are huge for us. As a team we know we have to step up. It’s four games in five nights but we’re preparing ourselves well.”
The Rockets will meet the Giants in Vancouver on Friday night and then return home to face the Chilliwack Bruins on Saturday.
JUST NOTES: Referees Jeff Ingram and Andy Thiessen gave each team seven minor penalties. . . . Kelowna was 3-for-5 on the power play; the Blazers were 0-for-5. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Callahan: He owned crunch time; 2. D Kevin Smith, Kelowna: A solid night; 3. F JT Barnett, Kamloops: Created chances. . . . The Rockets play Friday in Vancouver against the Giants. . . . The Blazers leave this morning for Calgary, where they play the Hitmen on Friday. The Blazers then move on to Lethbridge for a Saturday game with the Hurricanes. . . . Kamloops is back home Nov. 13 to face the Rockets. . . . The Blazers are getting geared up for their annual game against the local Special Olympics floor hockey team. It is set for Nov. 15, 7 p.m., at Brocklehurst Secondary. Fans are encouraged to attend and donations to Special Olympics are appreciated.
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