|Brendan Ranford of the Kamloops Blazers|
and Marek Viedensky of the Saskatoon Blades
battle along the boards during Friday's WHL game.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell/Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
Josh Nicholls fired the shot that won the game Friday night as the Saskatoon Blades scored a 4-3 overtime victory over the Kamloops Blazers in a WHL game played before 3,928 fans at Interior Savings Centre.
But Nicholls wasn’t about to take the credit. Instead, he deferred to linemate Curtis Hamilton.
With the Blades enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage in OT — something that is rarer than hen’s teeth — Hamilton made a diving play 20 feet inside the Kamloops zone in order to maintain possession. He was able to poke the puck to defenceman Stefan Elliott, who hit Nicholls low on the left side and the 18-year-old from Tsawwassen rifled the winning shot past a lunging Jeff Bosch, the Kamloops goaltender, for his 15th score this season.
“He’s a great player,” Nicholls said of Hamilton, a Kelowna native who will celebrate his 19th birthday today by playing the host Rockets. His father, Bruce, is the Rockets’ president and general manager. “It’s all the little things he does. He never gives up. We don’t win the game if he doesn’t put in an effort like that. It was a great job by him.”
The Blazers appeared in good shape when they took a 3-1 lead into the second period.
But, as Nicholls put it, the visitors “came out firing on all cylinders in the third and we did a great job of burying it.”
With the Blazers on their heels, winger Matej Stransky pulled the Blades to within one as he was the toe on a tic-tac-toe play that presented him with an open net at 1:52.
The Blades continued to pour it on — they outshot the home boys 13-6 in the third — and tied it at 12:43 when Elliott took the puck to the net and Ryan Olsen, a 16-year-old from Delta, scored from the ensuing scramble.
In overtime, the Blades, who now are 21-6-1 with points in each of their last 11 games, picked up where they left off in the third period. And then, at 2:30, they were presented with a 5-on-3 advantage when referees Brent Iverson and Sean Raphael drew the wrath of the Blazers and the crowd by giving hooking penalties to linemates Chase Schaber and Brendan Ranford.
“It was kind of a weak call again,” Schaber said, “but what can you do about that? It was a little bit cheesy by the refs on that. If they’re going to make a 5-on-3 call they have to have a legit call to make.”
With teams playing 4-on-4 in overtime, the rules call for a 5-on-3 in these circumstances. The Blades took 1:16 to end it, and Nicholls celebrated like he meant it.
He had had a number of glorious chances, including a penalty shot late in the first period on which Bosch, whom the Blazers acquired from the Moose Jaw Warriors, made a fine glove save.
“I think he reached back on that one,” said Nicholls, who also nicked a post in OT. “In Moose Jaw, he robbed me all the time.
“It was pretty frustrating. I thought it was never going to get better. But I found a way to get it in and it feels good.”
Schaber felt his club’s problems stemmed from forwards leaving the game plan.
“Our forwards got a little bit one-sided with thinking we need more goals,” he said. “Up front, we were turning pucks over way too much, rather than getting pucks deep.”
Kamloops head coach Guy Charron talked about how “composed and confident (the Blades) are as a team.”
“That team doesn’t get bothered by any adversity,” he added. “We’ve got a lot to learn in that area. We’re fragile compared to a team that has composure.”
Colin Smith, Schaber and Logan McVeigh scored for the Blazers, while Darius Dziurzynski had Saskatoon’s other goal.
Bosch finished with 39 saves, nine more than Saskatoon’s Steven Stanford who now is 13-1-0.
“The sad thing,” Charron said, “is the performance by Jeff Bosch He played exceptionally well.”
The Blazers (13-13-2) may not have won, but they did pick up a point. That allowed them to remain tied for last place in the 10-team Western Conference where nine teams now are within six points of each other.
“Two points would have been a lot better,” Schaber said. “We’ll take one point but . . .”
The Blazers are at home again tonight, this time against the Calgary Hitmen (7-20-1), who beat the Giants 4-3 in Vancouver last night.
JUST NOTES: The Blades, now 3-0-0 on their B.C. Division swing, were given eight of the game’s 15 minor penalties. . . . The Blazers were 2-for-6 on the PP; the Blades were 1-for-4. . . . Dziurzynski’s goal came with the Blazers shorthanded, the fourth time in as many games the Kamloops power play has been torched. . . . Kamloops D Corey Fienhage left the game seven minutes into the third period with an injury to his right arm following a collision with Dziurzynski. Charron couldn’t say whether Fienhage will play tonight. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Hamilton: Showed why he’s going to camp with Canada’s national junior team; 2. Elliott: Showed why he should be going with Hamilton; 3. Bosch: Deserved better fate.
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