Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rockets bring Blazers back to earth

Kelowna's Evan Bloodoff watches a first-period shot go wide of Blazers
goaltender Jeff Bosch on Wednesday night. Bloodoff went on to score
two goals as the Rockets won 6-2 in Kamloops.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell/Kamloops Daily News)
By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers’ run of picking up at least a point in six straight games ended Wednesday night at Interior Savings Centre.
The Kelowna Rockets beat the Blazers 6-2 with a high-energy, puck-pursuit game that would appear to be almost playoff ready.
Kamloops (29-32-4) came into this one riding high. It had gone 7-2-1 in its last 10 games and was just home after a 4-0-1 run through the Central Division.
But the Rockets (37-25-1) have been hot, too. They now have won four straight, all on the road.
“We played really well,” said Kelowna left-winger Evan Bloodoff, who scored twice. “We came out strong. We were physical. We were disciplined. It was a good team game.”
The Rockets were especially impressive in two areas — the cycling game and their puck pursuit.
“That’s a big part of our game,” Bloodoff said of Kelowna’s play deep in Kamloops’ zone. “All lines . . . we like to cycle down low behind the net.”
As for the improved puck pursuit, he offered: “That’s a big thing we’ve worked on in practice and we try to bring it into games.”
They certainly brought it last night.
The visitors also took advantage of some really timely goals.
The teams were scoreless after a highly entertaining first period that featured few whistles. The Stanley Cup was in the house and was seen nodding its bowl in approval.
The Rockets then opened the second period with two goals in the first 6:05. The Blazers pulled to within one when centre Colin Smith scored at 16:07, but Kelowna got that one back, from Cody Chikie, just 24 seconds later.
Kamloops got to within 3-2 at 18:45 when winger-turned-defenceman Jordan DePape beat goaltender Adam Brown. Once again, though, the Rockets scored on their next shift, as Bloodoff pulled the trigger.
“They got the first two goals,” said Kamloops defenceman Bronson Maschmeyer. “We bounced back and got one . . . even when they had pressure on we still got one.”
He said the Blazers also “felt the energy” from the largest crowd of the season (5,527) on First Nations Night.
“We’ve been saying our best shift has to be the one after their goal,” Maschmeyer continued. “We haven’t quite grasped that idea yet, where we don’t necessarily need to go back and get another goal right after. We just need to have a good shift.”
Any chance the home team had of getting back into this one ended on the first shift of the third period when Bloodoff scored again, bouncing a centring pass of Kamloops defenceman Brady Gaudet and into the net, giving the Rockets a 5-2 lead.
“It was the timing of the goals,” Maschmeyer said. “They killed our momentum.”
Forwards Geordie Wudrick, Tyrell Goulbourne, with his first WHL goal in his eighth game, and Mitchell (Dirty Harry) Callahan also scored for the Rockets.
Kamloops goaltender Jeff Bosch made his 17th straight start, but he wasn’t around to finish. He left after giving up six goals on 24 shots, with Cam Lanigan getting in for the first time since a 20-minute relief appearance in Prince George on Jan. 26. Lanigan stopped four shots.
The victory lifted the B.C. Division-leading Rockets four points clear of the second-place Vancouver Giants. The first-place finisher will be the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed when the playoffs begin and with that comes home-ice advantage. The second-place team is likely to wind up fifth in the conference, meaning it won’t have the extra game at home.
“I think we’re getting close (to playoff ready),” Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said. “There are a lot of things we’re doing better. Our puck pursuit is pretty good and our guys are doing a good job of trying to keep possession in the offensive zone so we’re able to wear teams down a little bit.”
The Blazers, meanwhile, remain tied with the Prince George Cougars for seventh, but those two are just three points ahead of the Chilliwack Bruins. The Bruins hold three games in hand on the Blazers and two on the Cougars.
JUST NOTES: The Rockets were 2-for-3 on the power play; the Blazers were 0-for-4. . . . Wudrick has 37 goals and the Rockets are 23-4-0 when he scores. . . . Brown stopped 25 shots in posting his 80th career victory, three shy of Kelly Guard’s career record. . . . The Rockets hold a 4-3 edge in the season series, which has two games remaining. They’ll play March 11 here and March 12 in Kelowna. . . . The Daily News Three Stars were: 1. Bloodoff — two key goals; 2. Goulbourne — first WHL goal, two fights and a pest; 3. D Damon Severson, Kelowna — simple and effective. . . . Kamloops C Chase Schaber, who has missed 22 of the last 24 games with a leg injury, took the pregame warmup but didn’t play. He may get back Friday against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes. D Brandon Underwood (knee) also may get back on Friday. 
gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca
     
gdrinnan.blogspot.com
     
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