By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The WHL’s two leading scorers will go head-to-head tonight at Interior Savings Centre as the Kamloops Blazers play host to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Left-winger Brendan Ranford of the Blazers leads the WHL’s point parade, with 66 in 42 games.
Centre Linden Vey of the Tigers is hot on Ranford’s heels, with 65 in 38 games. Vey, 19, is from Wakaw, Sask. He is coming off a five-point night — he had a goal and four assists — in the Tigers’ 7-1 victory over the visiting Swift Current Broncos on Sunday.
The Blazers’ roster hasn’t boasted a WHL scoring champion since 2002-03 when centre Erik Christensen led the league in goals (54) and points (108).
Ranford has 30 goals to his credit, which has him tied for the WHL lead with centre Tyler Johnson of the Spokane Chiefs.
The Tigers, meanwhile, haven’t had a player win a scoring title since Tom Lysiak put up 154 points in 1972-73.
Vey, who was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL draft, also is an impressive plus-20, second on the Tigers to linemate Emerson Etem, who is at plus-21. Etem, a sophomore from Long Beach, Calif., has 37 points, including 22 goals, as he works to improve on last season in which he totalled 65 points, 37 of them goals, and was selected by the Anaheim Ducks with the 29th pick of the 2010 NHL draft.
“Vey has been awesome,” Medicine Hat head coach Shaun Clouston said Tuesday as the Tigers prepared to skate at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. “He has been so good. He has really worked hard at his game.”
Vey led the Tigers with 75 points in 72 games last season, and then, according to his coach, worked hard over the summer to improve his conditioning.
“He became a much better-conditioned athlete,” Clouston said, “and that has allowed him to be strong in the third period, to be better in back-to-back games.”
Which has resulted in more ice time. It also helped him get invited to the Canadian junior team’s selection camp, although he didn’t made the squad.
“But he has earned it,” Clouston said. “He’s doing a better job in the defensive zone. He’s working in both ends of the rink. He’s really been good for us.”
Vey and Etem, who played for the U.S. at the World Junior Championship, will have a new linemate tonight in the person of Kellan Tochkin, who was acquired Monday from the Everett Silvertips, along with defenceman Alex Theriau, for winger Ryan Harrison and a 2011 second-round bantam draft pick.
Tochkin, from Abbotsford, is almost a point-a-game guy, having totalled 178 points in 185 regular-season games with Everett.
“I think the deal made sense for both sides,” said Clouston, adding that the Tigers wanted more depth on defence. “And, with Harrison leaving, getting Tochkin to fill that position for right now made a lot of sense.”
The Tigers (26-12-2), with Clouston in his first season as head coach, are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and right in the thick of things near the top of the 12-team Eastern Conference.
With 54 points, they are fourth, two points behind the No. 2 seed, the conference-leading Kootenay Ice (27-12-3).
Clouston is in his eighth season on the Tigers’ coaching staff, the first seven of which were spent as associate coach to Willie Desjardins, now an assistant with the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Clouston said the transition to head coach wasn’t at all difficult.
“Obviously, I’ve been here for a lot of years,” he said. “Myself and Willie and (assistant coach Darren Kruger) . . . we did lots of stuff together so it’s not like we were going to change anything. The approach, the philosphy . . . nothing really changed as far as those things are concerned.”
The Blazers, meanwhile, are looking to get back on track after absorbing a 7-1 loss at the hands of the Rockets in Kelowna.
Since the Christmas break, the Blazers are 5-3-0, including a 3-1-0 mark at home. They are 20-21-2 and tied with the Seattle Thunderbirds for seventh place in the 10-team Western Conference. They are two points behind the sixth-place Kelowna Rockets.
Centre Chase Schaber, the Blazers’ captain, has missed the last two games with a leg injury and is listed as day-to-day on the injury report. His spot on the Blazers’ big line, between Ranford and Jordan DePape, was taken by Dalibor Bortnak.
The Blazers also show forward Bernhard Keil (shoulder) as being out for up to 10 days, while defenceman Josh Caron (collarbone) is day-to-day. Defenceman Tyler Hansen (flu) also is day-to-day.
JUST NOTES: Game time is 7 p.m. . . . Theriau, who is from Duncan, is out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury. He was selected by the Lethbridge Hurricanes with the sixth overall pick of the 2007 bantam draft. . . . The Tigers last visited Kamloops on Oct. 12, 2009. Etem had four goals as the Tigers won, 12-5, in a game the Blazers actually led 4-2 before giving up nine straight goals. . . . Tigers D Matthew Konan was plus-7 in that game. . . . The Blazers have only seven players left on their roster from that game. . . . After tonight, the Blazers meet the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash., on Friday and return home to face the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday.
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