By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers continued their post-Christmas surge Sunday, whipping the visiting Kelowna Rockets 5-1 for their fourth victory in five WHL games since returning to action from an eight-day break.
The triumph came 24 hours after the Blazers had edged the Seattle Thunderbirds 3-2 in Kent, Wash.
When the first weekend of 2011 was over the Blazers (19-19-2) had vaulted from 10th to seventh place in the ultra-tight Western Conference.
The Rockets (21-17-0), who dropped the Blazers 7-1 in Kelowna on Thursday, were badly outplayed in this one.
“It wasn’t a good game for us,” Kelowna assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert said. He is in charge with head coach Ryan Huska on the Canadian national junior team’s staff. “I don’t think we responded well. They pushed early and . . . we weren’t ready to respond.
“(The Blazers) played hard. I think they were fired up from what happened the other night. They played hard.”
The Blazers did not make any players or coaches available to speak with The Daily News for a second straight game. This is in violation of WHL rules, but is a policy the organization put in place on Dec. 22, citing in a letter to the newspaper “ongoing negative reporting.” A team spokesman has said this policy will be in place “until further notice.”
Last night, Kamloops got another big effort from the WHL’s best offensive line — Chase Schaber between Brendan Ranford and Jordan DePape — especially in the first period when the game was still on the line.
The Blazers took control in a hurry, scoring three times in three minutes two seconds shortly past the midway point of the first period.
Ranford, who leads the WHL in goals and points (62), got his 30th goal when he shovelled the puck from behind the Kelowna net and had it go off a skate and through goaltender Adam Brown’s legs.
Just 54 seconds later, DePape stripped the puck from a defender and Schaber put the pass over Brown and under the crossbar.
Finally, at 14:23, with Brown guarding his left post, centre Dylan Willick came out the other side and stuffed in his fourth goal in five games.
“They came out a lot better than we did,” Kelowna forward Evan Bloodoff said. “We weren’t getting the bounces but we weren’t working for them.”
Bronson Maschmeyer and JT Barnett, who ended a 15-game goal drought, added Kamloops goals in the second period.
Kamloops goaltender Jeff Bosch lost his shutout at 19:08 of the second when Zach Franko successfully finished off a 3-on-1 break.
Bosch finished with 29 saves.
The Blazers got great mileage out of centre Matt Needham, 15, who was playing in his seventh game. Under normal circumstances, WHL rules would limit Needham, at 15, to five games this season, at least until his club team has its season end. But with the Blazers having four players away, they have been granted an extension for Needham.
Last night, the Penticton native took a regular shift and also showed some effectiveness killing penalties as the Blazers blanked the Rockets on six power-play attempts.
On Saturday, Willick broke a 2-2 tie at 13:37 of the third period. It was Willick’s third game-winner, each of them coming since play resumed after Christmas.
Ranford and Thomas Frazee also scored for the Blazers, who fired 49 shots at goaltender Calvin Pickard.
“We really didn’t play well in the first two periods,” Ranford told freelancer Jim Riley, who covered the game for the Seattle Times, “but in the third we stuck to the game plan and got pucks in and on net. Pickard is a great goalie and we had to score greasy goals to win. He’s a great player and we just got lucky.”
Ranford, who was the game’s first star, said he enjoys playing against Pickard.
“I love playing against him because it takes my best to score on him,” Ranford said. “He made some really big saves on me, but we figured the more shots we could get the better. It’s been a good season for me, but I’d rather be assured of getting into the playoffs right now, that’s the biggest thing.”
Chance Lund and Burke Gallimore replied for Seattle.
Bosch stopped 38 shots.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers will play at home again Tuesday, 7 p.m., against the Moose Jaw Warriors, who lost 5-2 to the Cougars in Prince George yesterday to end a three-game road winning streak. . . . The Warriors are in Kelowna on Thursday. . . . Kamloops F JC Lipon left in the second period with a leg injury. He wasn’t on the bench for the third. . . . Kamloops D Josh Caron, who hasn’t played since breaking his collarbone on Sept. 25, was listed as day-to-day before Christmas. He now is shown as being out another three weeks. . . . Attendance at Interior Savings Centre was 4,175.
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