|The Kamloops Blazers will celebrate|
Jarome Iginla Bobblehead Night
By GREGG DRINNANThe road warriors are back in the friendly confines tonight for the first time since Feb. 15.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
When last seen in these parts, the Kamloops Blazers, coming off a 3-2 shootout victory over the visiting Tri-City Americans, were clinging to eighth place in the WHL’s 10-team Western Conference.
Kamloops also was without its captain, the injured Chase Schaber, and shutdown defenders Austin Madaisky and Brandon Underwood.
None of that has changed as the Blazers prepare to meet the visiting Kelowna Rockets tonight. Except that Kamloops (29-31-4) has found at least a bit of breathing room; it now resides in seventh place (actually, it is tied with the Prince George Cougars), five points clear of the ninth-place Chilliwack Bruins.
Schaber, who has missed the last 19 games, and Underwood, who has sat out nine, are listed as day-to-day, while Madaisky’s season is over. They have been joined in sick bay by freshman forward Chase Souto, who incurred his second concussion of the season on Saturday night in Cranbrook.
Without those four players, the Blazers may dress 16 skaters tonight, which is three under the maximum.
The shortage of skaters didn’t seem to bother them a whole lot on their recent swing into the Central Division. They went 4-0-1 and took points from three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams — the Red Deer Rebels, Kootenay Ice and Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Blazers lost in overtime in Red Deer, won in extra time in Medicine Hat and then beat the Ice 8-5 in Cranbrook.
They also were without hard-rock defenceman Josh Caron for three games on the trip as he served a suspension from a hit from behind on Red Deer forward Josh Cowen, who needed surgery to repair a broken hand. Caron, however, is eligible to return tonight for what will be the seventh of nine regular-season meetings with the Rockets.
The teams are 3-3-0 in the season series, although Kelowna has a 25-18 edge in goals, thanks to 7-1 and 8-1 victories in two of the last three meetings. They haven’t played each other since Jan. 8, when the Rockets, playing at home, won, 8-1. On Jan. 2, the host Blazers had won, 5-1.
Three of the Blazers’ last eight regular-season games will be against the Rockets, who will be back here March 11, with the Blazers in Kelowna the following night.
While the Blazers have been scrapping just to get into the playoffs, the Rockets (36-25-1) have been battling the Vancouver Giants for top spot in the B.C. Division, something that brings with it the conference’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs. The runner-up likely will be the No. 5 seed, which means not having home-ice advantage in the first round.
The Rockets also spent a few days in the Central Division and they, too, had some success, going 3-1-0 while scoring 10 goals and surrendering only nine. The Blazers, in their five games, banged in 26 goals and gave up 21.
The Rockets, in 62 games, have scored 211 goals and allowed 181, while the Blazers, having played 64 times, are at 207 and 252. The Blazers, then, would prefer to play run-and-gun, while the Rockets would prefer to win 1-0, as they did in Red Deer on Friday.
The Blazers came home with five 20-goal scorers, including left-winger Brendan Ranford, who has 33 but only five since Jan. 1. Centre Dylan Willick (22), centre Colin Smith (20) and Jordan DePape (20), a right winger who has helped out on defence of late, all got there on the road trip. Forward Thomas Frazee has 28 goals, including 15 in 29 games since coming over from the Regina Pats.
The Rockets have one 30-goal man — forward Geordie Wudrick has 36 — and two 20-goal men, but the roster includes four other skaters with at least 16 goals.
JUST NOTES: Game time is 7 p.m. . . . Kamloops is 7-2-1 in its last 10; the Rockets are 6-3-1. . . . The Blazers are 15-13-3 at home; the Rockets are 18-14-0 on the road. . . . The starting goaltenders are likely to be Adam Brown (Kelowna) and Jeff Bosch (Kamloops). They have played all six games in the season series, with Brown going 2.81 and .918, while Bosch is 3.14, .899. . . . The Stanley Cup is scheduled to be in the house tonight. The doors to the Sports Action Lounge will open at 5 p.m., and, for $5, you may get your photo taken with the fabled mug. All proceeds will go to Mitch Harlock and his family. Harlock, 10, has been diagnosed Neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. . . . The Blazers will hold their first-ever Bobblehead Night on Friday when the Lethbridge Hurricanes visit Interior Savings Centre. The first 3,000 fans through the doors will receive Jarome Iginla bobbleheads. According to a press released from the Blazers, “There will be a limited quantity left over and sold during the last three home games.”. . . . Wudrick also has scored four times in shootouts, but those goals aren’t included in players’ totals. . . . Wudrick, who was acquired from the Swift Current Broncos last season, will play his 100th game with the Rockets tonight.
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