Monday, March 21, 2011

Blazers left to wonder what happened

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The grim reality set in Sunday.
Players with the Kamloops Blazers players knew the nightmare was real when they reported to Interior Savings Centre for exit interviews with the coaching staff.
“It is today, seeing all the bags packed and guys with straight faces . . . not too many smiles at the rink today,” right-winger Jordan DePape said Sunday afternoon.
Goaltender Jeff Bosch added: “I just had my meetings and stuff like that. It definitely has set in that it’s all over and done with . . .”
The Blazers’ WHL season is over; it ended officially with a 5-1 loss to the Cougars in Prince George on Saturday night.
The Blazers went into the season’s final weekend needing two victories to keep their playoff hopes alive. Instead, they lost twice -- the visiting Cougars beat them 3-2 in a seven-round shootout on Friday -- to run their season-ending losing skein to eight games.
Future WHL Guides will show that the Blazers wound up at 29-37-6, placing them fifth in the five-team B.C. Division and ninth in the 10-team Western Conference.
Kamloops is out of the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 30 years in the city. The other time was 2005-06 when it finished 34-33-5.
And it is only the fifth time in those 30 years that the team has won fewer than 30 games.
What happened over those last eight games? How could a team go 4-0-1 on a Central Division swing, scoring 26 goals in the process, and then lose eight in a row?
For starters, the offence, including the power play, dried up. The Blazers scored 12 goals in those games and four of them came in a 5-4 loss to the visiting Tri-City Americans on March 8. That was the only game in the final eight in which Kamloops scored more than two goals.
And the Blazers got outscored 10-1 on special teams, their power play going 1-for-27 while the penalty killers were 26-for-36.
“I don’t know if we just took things for granted after that trip and thought success was going to come easily . . . and it just went downhill,” DePape said. “I don’t know. (Brendan) Ranford left the lineup with the suspension, but even before that, I don’t know if we weren’t getting our bounces or pucks weren’t going in, but it just wasn’t there.
“I don’t know if we were holding our sticks too tight or what . . . it just seemed to stop.”
Defenceman Bronson Maschmeyer doesn’t know what was wrong with the power play, just that it “was shot, too.”
“On the road trip we had a really good power play,” he said of a unit that scored 11 times in those five games. “The last games . . . you could feel it. I was out there. I felt it.”
Before those last games, though, Maschmeyer said, “We felt good about ourselves. It’s tough not to when you have a good trip like that. But at the same time I knew, and the team knew, that we also got some good bounces.”
The Blazers scored four third-period goals en route to a 6-5 shootout victory over the Tigers. And then they went into Cranbrook and beat the Kootenay Ice, 8-5.
“The one thing we said going into that game was ‘Try not to get into a run-and-gun’, and we did the exact opposite,” Maschmeyer said. “We knew we had a bit of luck on our side on that trip.”
Bosch, a veteran of four WHL seasons, wasn’t prepared to point the finger at the offence.
“I don’t think you can really pin it on one thing in general,” said Bosch, who watched from the bench Saturday after starting 23 straight games. “It seemed like everything on that Alberta trip went our way . . . every bounce.
“Then we came back and it was kind of our Achilles heel all season long -- we faced a little bit of adversity and our team didn’t handle that very well. That was probably the major factor . . . the adversity thing.”
Maschmeyer said there were five late-season games in which the Blazers let points get away late in the third period.
“We knew we weren’t out of the woods,” Maschmeyer said. “Other teams were looking for spots. It’s not like any games were easy, but you have to find ways.”
In the end, the Blazers found themselves three points behind the Everett Silvertips, who went 28-33-11 and nabbed the conference’s last playoff spot. The Silvertips picked up 11 loser points -- teams are given one point for each overtime or shootout loss -- while the Blazers earned six.
“Lethbridge . . .we had them and they scored that one goal,” Maschmeyer said of a game that was 1-1 in the third period and turned into a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes, one of the Eastern Conference’s weak sisters. “Even just to get a point in that game and start from there . . .
“Even Tri-City, 55 seconds left. Somehow we lost it . . .”
The Americans broke a 4-4 tie in the last minute of the third period to win that one, 5-4.
Perhaps Bosch best summed up the last two weeks when he said: “You couldn’t predict it to go the way it did,” he said.
The Cougars, meanwhile, won the last seven games in the season series, to win it 7-1-0. They will be on the road Friday to open a best-of-seven first-round series against the B.C. Division-championship Kelowna Rockets.
JUST NOTES: Bosch, who is from Martensville, which is just outside Saskatoon, is 20 so his WHL career is over. He said he has heard from a couple of ECHL teams and may finish the season with one of them. But, he added, “I’m thinking school is probably my primary unless I get some sort of good offer.” . . . Maschmeyer, 19, said he definitely wants to return for his 20-year-old season. . . . Prince George got a goal and three assists from D Sena Acolatse and a goal and two helpers from F Brett Connolly on Saturday. F Thomas Frazee had the Blazers’ lone goal. . . . G Cam Lanigan, in his first start since Jan. 19, stopped 24 shots. . . . Last season, the Cougars had the worst record in the 60-team CHL, at 12-56-4. This season, they finished 33-35-4.

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