By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
By their count, the Kamloops Blazers directed 65 shots in the direction of Prince George Cougars goaltender Drew Owsley on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, not one of them tickled the twine as Owsley stopped 32, his teammates blocked the other 33, and the Cougars stole away with a 1-0 WHL victory.
This was the 20th home-opener for the Blazers in what now is the Interior Savings Centre. This one was played before 4,069 fans, easily the smallest opening night crowd since the building opened.
The Blazers’ offence simply came up as empty as about 1,500 seats.
“It’s frustrating to allow one goal and not get a point,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron allowed.
The Blazers lost this one in the most frustrating of ways, going 0-for-7 on the power play and giving up a goal with eight-tenths of a second left in the second period.
Centre Charles Inglis, a 32-goal man last season, took advantage of a turnover as time was running out in the second period. He moved down the left wing and scored on a desperation-type shot that beat goaltender Cam Lanigan to the short side.
“It came through a defenceman’s legs,” said Lanigan, who stopped 24 shots. “Obviously, it was a goal I’d want to have back . . . a short-side play. It was a mistake that cost us the game.”
Charron wasn’t about to disagree with his goaltender.
“It was a goal that hurt us,” Charron said. “I’m sure he would want to have it back. Overall, early on in the first period, he made the saves he has to make. It was just unfortunate that he had that one slip away from him and it was the outcome of the game.”
The Cougars have struggled in goal the last few seasons, which is why they got Owsley, a 20-year-old from Lethbridge who was 36-17-2 for the Tri-City Americans last season, with a 2.77 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Asked about his thought process as the game wore on, Owsley stated: “I just want to keep making saves and doing what I’m doing.”
It was Owsley’s 10th career shutout and the second by a 1-0 count, the other coming almost one year ago when he and the Americans beat the visiting Kelowna Rockets on Oct. 1.
The Cougars acquired Owsley on Aug. 4, giving up goaltender Ty Rimmer, along with third- and seventh-round picks in the 2013 bantam draft.
Owsley made a sensational save with his right toe on a Colin Smith re-direct late in the first period, then started the second with a dynamite right pad stop on Cole Ully. Thirty seconds later, Owsley flashed big-league leather on Tim Bozon. Five minutes after that, Matt Needham had Owsley dead to rights and drilled him in the mask. Later, there was a glove save on Smith, a pad save on another Smith re-direct, and a brilliant come-across stop on Chase Schaber,
By now, you get the idea.
“Owsley stood on his head . . . he outplayed me,” Lanigan said. “And they fronted 33 (shots) on us . . . that’s more than Owsley stopped.”
Prince George head coach Dean Clark said: “Owsley gave us a chance.”
He did, so did defenders like Cody Carlson and Daniel Gibb, who clogged the middle and simply refused to let shots get through.
“Props to (Carlson),” Owsley said, referring to the 20-year-old Victoria native who finished off the Blazers with two more blocks as time ran out. “That was amazing. He probably stopped at least 15 or 20. He’s a warrior and we needed him out there. He came up huge for us.”
Charron was quick to tip his hat to the Cougars’ defenders.
“They were willing to pay the price and get in the way to block shots,” he said. “They did the little things to win the hockey game.”
The Blazers got winger J.T. Barnett back from the NHL’s New Jersey Devils on Saturday, but he came back with a knee injury and won’t play for up to a month.
Barnett scored the game’s first goal Friday in what turned into a 5-4 OT victory over the Rangers. However, he tweaked a knee later in the period and didn’t return.
JUST NOTES: In what may have been a WHL first, four of the on-ice officials — referee Nick Swaine and linesmen Ryan Dawson and Kris Hartley — were from Kamloops. . . . The Cougars were 0-for-4 on the PP. . . . This was the seventh time in franchise history that the Blazers have been blanked 1-0. The last time was on March 12 when they lost in a shootout to the Rockets in Kelowna. . . . Kamloops was shut out three times last season. . . . Prince George was 7-1-0 against the Blazers last season. . . . The Blazers had won their last three home-openers. They now are 13-5 with two ties in 20 openers in the ISC. . . . The Cougars have two players with NHL bloodlines but both were scratched. F John Odgers, 18, is the son of former NHLer Jeff Odgers, while D Dane Phaneuf, 17, is the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs D Dion Phaneuf. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Owsley: The difference; 2. Carlson: Sacrificed his body on numerous occasions; 3. Smith: Had some chances. . . . The Blazers are at home to the Vancouver Giants on Friday, 7 p.m.
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