By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
This was True Grit. Unfortunately, Rooster Cogburn wasn't there to see it.
The Kamloops Blazers, their forward ranks thinning quicker than a balding man's scalp, gave it their all Saturday night at Interior Savings Centre. But their all compared to the Portland Winterhawks' all wasn't nearly enough and the visitors skated out of town with a 5-2 WHL victory.
The Blazers went into the game without three forwards, including two-thirds of their top line. According to head coach Guy Charron, centre Chase Schaber has a pull in the groin area and will be out anywhere from two to four weeks. Right-winger Jordan DePape has a leg injury and, Charron said, “is short-term.” As well, left-winger Bernhard Keil missed his fourth straight game with a shoulder injury.
On Saturday, already one skater short of the 18-man maximum, the Blazers lost freshman forward Logan McVeigh before the first period was three minutes old when he took a check and went awkwardly into the boards deep in Portland territory. He tried to return but had to call it a night.
Just two minutes later, forward Thomas Frazee absorbed a hard hit and left with a knee injury. He needed help getting from the bench to the Kamloops dressing room.
Charron said that McVeigh likely is short-term, while Frazee has a knee injury. Charron didn't know the extent but he didn't sound overly positive.
With Schaber and DePape out, left-winger Brendan Ranford skated alongside Dalibor Bortnak and JC Lipon, the latter of whom is playing with a sore leg.
“We have a tough schedule and we're down a few bodies,” said Lipon, who feasted on the extra ice time and excelled in this one. “But everyone has to buy in and do what they can for the team. People have to step up and fill other roles with guys missing.”
Things don't get any easier, either. After taking Sunday off, the Blazers will travel today to Kent, Wash., where they are to meet the Seattle Thunderbirds on Tuesday. Chances are good that the Blazers also will be without left-winger Ryan Hanes, who is looking at a suspension after he took a slashing major for a hack at Portland goaltender Mac Carruth with time running out in the third period.
After playing in Kent, it's over to Kennewick, Wash., and a Wednesday date with the Tri-City Americans, who dropped the Blazers 7-3 there on Friday.
The Blazers will return home to face the Chilliwack Bruins on Friday and the Vancouver Giants on Saturday.
After that run of four games in five nights, the Blazers will have played 15 games in 27 nights since returning from the Christmas break. They came back from the break and put up four victories in five games. Since then, however, they have cooled considerably and now have lost four in a row and five of six.
The result is that the Blazers (20-24-2) got up this morning tie with the Everett Silvertips for last place in the 10-team Western Conference, albeit just one point out of a playoff spot.
“Obviously it's disheartening,” defenceman Austin Madaisky said of watching teammates leave with injuries. “But, at the same time, it's an opportunity for younger guys to step up. We have good depth on this team and we have guys who can step up and fill in the roles that have been lost to injuries.”
Against Portland, they gave it their best shot.
Madaisky scored the game's first goal, a minute into the second period, but as time wore on the home team's errors became more and more frequent and the Winterhawks (28-14-3) ended up taking a 3-1 lead into the third period on goals by Joe Morrow, Taylor Aronson and Ryan Johansen.
The Blazers got to within one when Colin Smith scored just 26 seconds into the third period, but the Blazers couldn't defeat fatigue and the visitors, who got goals from Ty Rattie and Nino Niederreiter before it ended.
“It really stands out against a team like the Winterhawks,” Madaisky said of the errors. “The first 20 minutes we took it to them. Over time, missing a couple of guys, other guys started to get tired and fatigue sets in and there are mental errors.
“A team like Portland can really capitalize on those opportunities.”
As for this week's games, Madaisky said the game plan will be simple.
“With the lineup we have right now, we have to play simple hockey,” Madaisky said. “We have to simplify it and hopefully frustrate teams. We need to get a goal, it might be a greasy goal, and then we're just going to need to try to frustrate teams.
“The longer we keep it a close game, the more the other team will get frustrated and the more we will have a chance to win.”
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,344. . . . Portland was 1-for-5 on the PP, while the Blazers were 0-for-6 and gave up their eighth shorthanded goal of the season. . . . Kamloops G Jeff Bosch stopped 40 shots, while Portland's Mac Carruth turned aside 36. . . . The Winterhawks swept the season series from the Blazers, going 4-0 and outscoring Kamloops 24-16 in the process. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Johansen: Fourth overall pick in NHL 2010 draft showed why; 2. Lipon: Earned extra playing time; 3. Portland D Tyler Wotherspoon: Solid on the back end. . . . Kamloops was hit with an ugly weather system that dropped freezing rain during Saturday’s game. Portland GM/head coach Mike Johnston reports that the “roads were bad to begin with” and that his club got home Sunday at 7 a.m. . . . The Winterhawks will be without four players when they play host to the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday. Rattie, Wotherspoon, F Sven Bartschi and D Joe Morrow will be in Toronto taking part in the Top Prospects Game. “They are excited,” Johnston said. The skills competition is set for Tuesday night with the game on Wednesday.
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