Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blazers coast past Thunderbirds

Daily News Sports Editor
Sheesh! It was like having one of those earworms. You know, one of those songs you can’t get out of your head.
That was the case Wednesday night at Interior Savings Centre when the 3,754 fans in attendance heard Taking Care of Business a season-high five times in the first period alone, including three times in the first four minutes 23 seconds.
Yes, the Blazers, their lineup with more holes in it than the B.C. Liberal Party’s membership list, scored five times in the opening 20 minutes and went on to a 6-1 WHL victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds in a no-hitter than featured just one minor penalty through two periods.
One might have expected the Thunderbirds (19-27-9) to play a bit better. After all, they arrived in town Tuesday, so bus legs weren’t an excuse. They also are in 10th place in the 10-team Western Conference, and yet they played without even a hint of desperation and now are four points behind the eighth-place Blazers (24-30-3).
The Blazers are missing defencemen Brandon Underwood (knee) and Austin Madaisky (neck), as well as centre Chase Schaber (leg). And then they had defenceman Brady Gaudet skip about half the first period with a leg problem, necessitating the moving of right-winger Jordan DePape to the back end for a handful of shifts.
“I was a D back in the day, until I was 11 or 12 years old,” said DePape, who earned three first-period assists. “Then, in preseason, Guy put me there for a couple of periods in a game because we were short. I thought I did a pretty good job.
“And it worked out well today.”
Yes, it did. For the home side, anyway.
The Blazers took advantage of a Seattle team that was rather liberal with turnovers inside its blue line. Kamloops held a 21-10 edge in shots after 20 minutes as it showed Calvin Pickard, one of the WHL’s best goaltenders on most nights, absolutely no respect.
Going into this one, knowing that Pickard was in the opposing goal, the Blazers didn’t expect what happened.
“No,” said DePape, who is pals with DePape from their minor hockey days in Winnipeg, “especially with their goaltending. Calvin is a pretty darn good goaltender. We got lucky and we got a few bounces. We got an early lead and we had a lot of confidence for the rest of the game.”
Centre Dylan Willick agreed, saying: “That does not happen very often and it kind of surprised us a little bit. It was good to see that we finally capitalized on our opportunities.”
And the first period easily could have been worse for the visitors.
Left-winger Brendan Ranford finished off a 2-on-1 by firing a shot high over a gaping net, while Willick was foiled by a pad save when it looked like he was about to make a deposit.
In the end, centre Dalibor Bortnak had two goals, with Willick, Colin Smith, Josh Caron and J.C. Lipon adding one each. Caron’s goal was his first of the season and second in 96 career games. Lipon scored his second of the season, ending a 42-game drought.
Forward Jacob Doty had Seattle’s goal, ending goaltender Jeff Bosch’s shutout bid at 4:48 of the first period. Bosch finished with 32 saves as he posted his 20th victory.
The Blazers revealed earlier in the day that Schaber, who had hoped to return to the lineup last night, will be out indefinitely. He has missed 14 of the last 16 games with a leg injury and now there apparently are concerns about calcification.
The Blazers say that he will be re-evaluated in 10 days and that there isn’t a timeline for his return.
Meanwhile, with Madaisky and Underwood out, defenceman Landon Cross, a third-round selection in the 2009 bantam draft, is to join the Blazers today from the midget AAA Brandon Wheat Kings. He played six games with the Blazers after Christmas and this time will stay with them for 10 days.
With Cross in the lineup, perhaps DePape will be able to stay up front.
“We don’t really talk about (the injuries) too much,” DePape said. “It’s a little bit of adversity that we’re facing and we have to battle through it.
“But when the d-men need a break, it’s nice that they can rely on me. I can go back there when needed.”
The Blazers now are able to start thinking about this weekend and what they hope will be an excellent adventure. They leave Friday for Whitehorse, where they will play Saturday against the B.C. Division-leading Vancouver Giants, who are 12 points ahead of them.
“It helps the guys out a lot,” Willick said of beating Seattle. “It’s nice to have something to build on going into such a big game.”
JUST NOTES: Referees Ryan Benbow and Pat Smith, who were rather conservative with their whistles in this one, gave Seattle four of six minors. The Blazers took the lone misconduct, that to Caron. . . . The Blazers’ single-game high for goals in a game is six. They have done it three teams, all at home. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. DePape — Some forward, a bit of defence and three assists; 2. Caron — A menacing presence back there, again; 3. Bosch — Solid in earning 20th victory. . . . The Blazers will have three prospects playing at the Canada Winter Games that open Friday in Halifax. F Matt Needham of Penticton and D Josh Connolly of Prince George will play for Team B.C., while F Cole Ully of Calgary will be with Team Alberta. They were the Blazers’ first, third and second selections, respectively, in the 2010 bantam draft.
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