Daily News Sports Editor
Brendan Ranford has done his part. The rest is up to Hockey Canada.
The invitations go out today for the Canadian national junior team’s selection camp, which is to be held in Toronto, Dec. 11-15.
If Ranford, Kamloops Blazers’ starry left winger, was on Hockey Canada’s radar screen earlier in the season, he was the merest of blips. Of late, however, he has come on like a politician in the last days before an election.
Ranford had his sixth three-point game in his last eight outings Saturday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Blazers were beaten 7-5 by the Prince George Cougars before 4,099 fans at Interior Savings Centre.
Ranford, an 18-year-old from Edmonton, finished November with 22 points, including 11 goals, in 10 games. On the season, he has a WHL-leading 24 goals and his 44 points have him second in the WHL points derby, two behind forward Linden Vey of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
If you’re into plus/minus, Ranford is at plus-4 on a team that has the 22-team league’s second-poorest defensive record and has allowed 23 more goals than it has scored.
Still, he has no idea whether he will get a call.
“I feel I’ve played well lately,” Ranford said. “If I don’t (get picked), I don’t. I won’t be totally disappointed. I tried to do my best.”
Ranford, who was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers with the second-last pick of the 2010 NHL draft, got a chance to strut his stuff for Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast during the Subway Super Series here on Nov. 17. Team WHL lost to a touring Russian side, 7-6 in a shootout, but Ranford felt he played well.
He knows that if he doesn’t get invited to the national junior camp today, there’s always next year when he will be in his 19-year-old season.
Still, he would like an opportunity to show he belongs at that elite level, and you’ve got to think Canada might be able to make use of his hot stick.
Even with Ranford’s two goals, though, the Blazers weren’t able to beat the Cougars, who got a goal and three assists from Slovakian defenceman Martin Marincin. A second-round selection by Edmonton in the 2010 NHL draft, he has 30 points in his first 26 WHL games, which is why Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor was sporting the biggest smile in the arena on Saturday night.
The Cougars also got two goals from Charles Inglis and a goal and two assists from pesky Nick Bounassisi. Brett Connolly, with his 20th of the season, Cody Carlson and Taylor Stefishen, into an empty net, also scored for the visitors.
Jordan DePape, Colin Smith and Brady Gaudet, with his first WHL goal, replied for the Blazers, who trailed 4-2 with four minutes left in the second period, tied it with goals 1:44 apart, and then fell behind when Connolly pounced on a soft rebound and tapped it behind Kamloops goaltender Cam Lanigan with 18.3 seconds left.
If anything, the Blazers were again done in by penalties and suspect penalty-killing, which was torched three times in seven opportunities. Kamloops, which also scored three PP goals, continues as the WHL’s most-penalized team and its penalty killing, with a success rate of 71.7 per cent, is well behind the Calgary Hitmen and Prince Albert Raiders, both of whom are at 75.5 per cent.
As Ranford said: “We take penalties at the wrong times. They aren’t necessarily bad penalties . . . they just aren’t at the right times.”
The Blazers also got something of a bad break early in the first period when Gaudet was given a double minor for high-sticking after Cougars forward Brock Hirsche went down at the Kamloops blue line. Hirsche, who left the game and later was sporting a patch over his right eye, actually was struck by the puck rather than Gaudet’s stick. Marincin scored the game’s first goal on the resulting power play.
While the Blazers were playing their fourth game in five nights — they went 2-2-0 — the Cougars won their third game in four nights in three different cities. They blanked the Bruins 4-0 in Chilliwack on Wednesday, then beat the visiting Regina Pats 5-3 on Friday.
“We looked at the schedule when it came out,” said Cougars head coach Dean Clark, “and said this would be the toughest part. We took it easy, prepared accordingly and won all three games.”
The victory improved the Cougars’ record to 14-10-2 and lifted them into first place in the B.C. Division. (Actually, they are tied with the Vancouver Giants, but the Cougars have one more victory.) Last season, the Cougars finished with the poorest record (12-56-4) in the 60-team CHL.
Of course, the Western Conference is so tight that the Blazers, at 13-13-1 and tied for eighth with Chilliwack, are just three points behind the Cougars.
The Blazers now are off until Friday when they face the visiting Saskatoon Blades. Game time will be 7 p.m.
The defending-champion Calgary Hitmen are at the ISC on Saturday night.
JUST NOTES: Referees Colby Smith and Ryan Thompson gave the Cougars 11 of 20 minors and two of four majors. . . . Former Blazers G James Priestner gave up five goals, but made 36 saves, 17 more than Lanigan. . . . Carlson’s goal, a shorthanded effort, stood as the winner. The Blazers have given up a shorthanded goal in each of their last three games. . . . F Chase Schaber returned from a three-game suspension to draw three assists for Kamloops. He wore the captain’s C but for a second straight game there weren’t any alternates. . . . DePape, playing on the line with Ranford and Schaber, added two assists to his goal. . . . A post-game scoring change awarded assists on Gaudet’s goal to Willick and Smith Among the Kamloops scratches was C Dalibor Bortnak, with a sore knee after stopping a shot from Spokane D Jared Cowen on Friday night. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Marincin: Big just gets better; 2. D Daniel Gibb, Prince George: Big minutes, half-a-dozen blocked shots; 3. Ranford: Finished November with a flourish. . . . The Blazers have returned G Troy Trombley, 16, to the midget AAA Fort Saskatchewan Rangers. . . . The Cougars are 2-1-0 here but don’t visit again until March 18. The Blazers play in Prince George for the first time this season on Dec. 17 and 18.
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