By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Unlike Sesame Street, Friday night’s WHL game at Interior Savings Centre was not brought to you by the letter ‘A’.
The Kamloops Blazers’ coaching staff, having watched its charges drop a 10-1 decision to the Chiefs in Spokane on Wednesday night, chose to have the team, already without captain Chase Schaber, play without alternate captains in Friday’s rematch at Interior Savings Centre.
School remains out on whether it worked as the Blazers, outplayed for much of the first 45 minutes, got a late goal from forward Dylan Willick to tie the game and then beat the Chiefs 4-3 in a shootout before 3,974 fans.
As goaltender Cam Lanigan stopped Spokane centre Tyler Johnson to end the shootout, the Blazers poured off their bench in celebration, the sense of relief quite palpable in the building.
The victory lifted the Blazers (13-12-1) into a three-way tie for sixth place in the ultra-tight 10-team Western Conference. The Chiefs (12-9-3) and Chilliwack Bruins are tied with Kamloops.
Blazers defencemen Corey Fienhage and Bronson Maschmeyer and forward Jordan DePape wore letters in Spokane on Wednesday. Fienhage, forward Shayne Neigum and defenceman Austin Madaisky had them Tuesday in a 4-3 overtime victory over the visiting Regina Pats.
Schaber, the captain since the season began, completed a three-game WHL-issued suspension last night.
“It’s nothing negative,” head coach Guy Charron said of the decision to strip some of his leadership group of the letters. “It’s a situation where . . . I don’t know how to really explain it. The game we lost in Everett (a 4-2 decision on Nov. 19) we had issues that we had to iron out.
“At this point it doesn’t mean that the players won’t get the letters. It comes with a responsibility. For some of them . . . they have to learn. It’s like with your kids — sometimes you have to reprimand them a little bit to maybe get the message across.
“It’ll all get sorted out at a certain point. But for now we’ve decided that was the thing to do.”
On Radio NL’s postgame show Wednesday night, assistant coach Scott Ferguson made reference to some finger-pointing among players that had taken place during the loss in Spokane.
Charron chose not to go there.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want it to be negative.”
Madaisky, who scored one of two Blazers’ shootout goals, said the coaching decision didn’t have any impact.
“It’s a roomful of leaders in there,” the third-year defenceman said. “And the guys know who talks sometimes and who doesn’t. We don’t need the other teams or the fans or media to see the A’s on the jerseys. The guys in the room know who the leaders are.
“There are some guys who don’t say anything but they go out on the ice and lead by example. Dylan Willick is a good example of that. He’s a very quiet kid but when he hits the ice . . . he competes hard.”
Willick was his usual gritty self Friday night, zipping and buzzing and blocking shots. He got rewarded at 18:20 of the third period when, with goaltender Cam Lanigan on the bench, he corralled a loose puck off a faceoff in the Spokane zone and beat goaltender Mac Engel to get the Blazers into overtime.
Engel had come on during the second period to replace Spokane starter James Reid, who suffered an injury to his right leg when he got caught up in a bit of traffic. It was Engel’s fifth appearance of the season and third in November.
The shootout was delayed by about 15 minutes due to a problem with one net. Finally, referees Ryan Benbow and Ryan Bonnett decided to let both teams shoot at the same net.
Brendan Ranford beat Engel. Lanigan stopped Spokane forward Blake Gal. Madaisky scored. Then Lanigan stoned Spokane spark plug Tyler Johnson for his 43rd and last save of the game.
“He played very well,” Charron said of Lanigan, who had been lit up for eight goals in Spokane. “He had an excellent game.”
Madaisky was able to unveil his shootout move. He skated straight down the centre of the ice, got to within 15 feet, hesitated, and blasted a shot past Engel’s catching mitt.
“I’ve done that move maybe 10 to 15 times in practice and haven’t missed yet,” a smiling Madaisky said.
Earlier in the game, the Blazers had gotten up 2-0 on a pair of goals by winger Jordan DePape but Johnson got those back, scoring while his side was two men short in the second period and adding a power-play goal early in the third.
Spokane defenceman Jared Cowen gave his side a 3-2 lead by finishing off a 3-on-2 with Johnson and Levko Koper at 5:51 of the third.
The Blazers held a 7-5 edge in first-period shots but were outshot 17-7 in the second as Spokane took over.
Madaisky, like many of his teammates, struggled early in what was their third game in four nights.
“I don’t know what was going on,” Madaisky said, adding that he got great support from partner Tyler Hansen, who “I thought had a great game . . . if it wasn’t for him I may not have seen any ice in the third period.”
Madaisky took four minor penalties and was in the penalty box when Johnson scored Spokane's tying goal.
“After you take eight minutes in penalties,” Madaisky admitted, “it goes to your head and you start thinking you can’t do anything out there. It got to the point where I was thinking I couldn’t touch anybody. I have to thank (Ferguson) . . . he stuck with me.”
Madaisky and his teammates picked it up in the third period, though, especially in the back half and it paid off.
“I sensed some fatigue tonight,” Charron said. “This was our fifth game in eight nights and it’ll be six in nine (tonight). . . . We kept plugging away.”
The Blazers are back at it tonight, this time against the visiting Prince George Cougars.
JUST NOTES: Referees Ryan Benbow and Ryan Bonnett gave the Blazers six of 10 minors and one of two majors. . . . Ranford was credited with two assists after the game, giving him three on the night. He has 41 points, one off the WHL lead. . . . Kamloops F Dalibor Bortnak missed the last five minutes of the first period and the early part of the second after blocking a Cowen shot with his left knee. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Willick: Nothing but hard work, this time with a goal; 2. Johnson: Veteran loves this building; 3. Lanigan: Kept his guys in it and won it in the shootout. . . . After tonight, the Blazers don’t play until Friday when they meet the visiting Saskatoon Blades.
Taking Note on Twitter