Thursday, January 13, 2011

Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers were double losers on Wednesday night - they lost a hockey game and their leading scorer no longer leads the WHL point parade.
The Medicine Hat Tigers, who skate as well as any team in the league, jumped out to a 2-0 lead and went on to a 4-1 victory over the Blazers before 3,857 fans at Interior Savings Centre.
Medicine Hat centre Linden Vey had a goal and an assist, giving him 67 points on the season, one more than left-winger Brendan Ranford of the Blazers, who was held off the scoresheet.
“I don't think it's something you worry about,” Vey, a 19-year-old from Wakaw, Sask., said of a potential scoring title. “It just happens. You go out there and focus on winning. At the end of the day, they don't remember who wins the scoring race; they remember who wins the championship.”
The Tigers (27-12-2) kept pace with the top bunch in the Eastern Conference - they are fourth, a point out of third - while the Blazers (20-22-2) remain tied for seventh in the Western Conference, two points out of sixth and one ahead of the Chilliwack Bruins.
Kamloops leaves today at 9 a.m., for Kennewick, Wash., and a Friday night date with the Tri-City Americans. Kamloops is at home to the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday night.
The Blazers had their chances last night - they outshot the visitors, 28-17 - but were done in by a wonky power play and the goaltending of Medicine Hat's Tyler Bunz.
“I thought we had chances,” offered Kamloops right-winger Jordan DePape, who said he isn't concerned over an offence that has two goals in its last two games, both losses. “We hit a couple of posts. We just needed a couple of bounces to go in.”
The Blazers ended up 1-for-7 on the power play, the goal coming off the stick of left-winger JT Barnett with the Tigers ahead 3-0 midway though the second period. The Kamloops power play also was torched for a shorthanded goal, as Vey set up the speedy Emerson Etem for the team's WHL-leading 12th such score.
That goal rounded out the night's scoring.
“Again, we generated some chances,” DePape said of a power-play unit that is ranked sixth in the WHL. “But we have to be better, especially defensively. They scored a shorthanded goal and we can't let that happen.”
The Blazers started OK but Medicine Hat's first goal, winger Tyler Pitlick's 17th just 5:43 in, seemed to set them on their heels. Even though the Blazers came out of the period with a 10-7 edge in shots, the Tigers dominated play.
“They came out with a lot of intensity,” Vey said. “Right off the bat they were after us. But we got pucks in and then we stuck to our game plan. We played simple, got pucks on net, got a few breaks and ended up with the win.”
It wasn't quite that simple, but that about sums it up.
Cole Grbavac, who began his WHL career with Kamloops, got his eighth goal in typical garbageman fashion, with the Tigers piling into the crease and hacking away until the puck got behind goaltender Jeff Bosch.
That would stand up as Grbavac's first game-winner this season.
The visitors went up 3-0 at 6:34, as winger Kellan Tochkin, acquired Monday from the Everett Silvertips, found Vey alone on the right side of the Blazers' zone. He zigged and zagged and beat Bosch for his 27th goal this season.
Not quite 10 minutes later, Bosch made a blocker save on Vey. As often happens, the play moved into the Medicine Hat zone and Barnett was able to shovel the puck under Bunz.
That goal gave the Blazers a lift, as did a glove save by Bosch on Medicine Hat captain Wacey Hamilton on a late Tigers' power play.
However, Kamloops wasn't able to put any more pucks behind Bunz, who finished with 27 saves in winning for the 20th time this season.
“He's played real well,” Vey said of Bunz, 18, who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft. “He gives us confidence.
“We capitalized on our opportunities. We tried to keep pucks to the outside and our goaltender played well for us. He's played well the whole season and is a big part of the reason why we're winning.”
The Blazers had centre Chase Schaber back after their captain missed two games with a leg injury. But he obviously is still hurting and wasn't nearly as effective as he normally is.
And they welcomed back defenceman Josh Caron after a 41-game absence. Against a Medicine Hat team with tremendous speed, Caron was used sparingly as he returned from a broken collarbone suffered in the second game of the season.
JUST NOTES: Referee Steve Papp gave Medicine Hat seven of nine minors. . . . The Tigers were 0-for-2 on the power play with the first of those lasting just 11 seconds. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. D Sebastian Owuya: The 6-foot-4 Swede was a tower of power back there; 2. Bunz: 20 victories; 3. Barnett: Had some chances. . . . Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor was upstairs, no doubt watching Bunz and Pitlick, both of whom were 2010 Edmonton draft picks.
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