By GREGG DRINNANIt was one game in a season that is a marathon.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers hope it was one step towards building a new identity.
The Blazers opened their six-game WHL exhibition season with a a 4-2 victory over the Victoria Royals on Friday night in front of about 800 fans at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre.
The Blazers will travel to Ladner today where they will face the Vancouver Giants tonight, while the Royals, who were playing their first game since relocating from Chilliwack over the summer, will meet the Rockets in Kelowna. Last night, the Rockets beat the Giants 4-3 in overtime.
“We’d like to create an identity . . . work ethic and being on loose pucks,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “I don’t want to dwell on the past but we need to be a team that is always on the puck and tenacious.”
The Blazers, of course, missed the playoffs last season, when their identity, if anything, was one of undisciplined play. If last night’s game is to be a point of reference, they are off to a good start.
The Blazers came out hard and used their speed to get in on the forecheck and create problems deep in Victoria’s zone.
“We wanted to be first on the puck and I thought we did that,” Charron said. “Puck possession . . . I thought we did a pretty good job.
“Overall, I was pleased with the effort.”
The Blazers got some help from a Royals team that wasn’t able to stay out of the penalty box. The visitors presented Kamloops with 11 power-play opportunities and the home side, despite not having worked on the PP, cashed in three of them.
“We said, ‘Be on the puck, move it to the points and get shots on net,’ ” Charron stated. “We weren’t going to try any plays.”
Right-winger J.T. Barnett, again looking comfortable on his off wing, snapped a shot past goaltender Jared Rathjen at 9:30 of the first period. Centre Colin Smith made it 2-0 just 1:05 later when he squeezed a shot from the left dot through Rathjen, a 16-year-old list player who signed with the Royals earlier in the day.
Both goals came with the man advantage and the Blazers were full marks for the 2-0 lead.
“I thought our forwards in the first period didn’t finish as many checks as we would have liked,” Charron said. Other than that, it was a good 20 minutes for the home boys.
But just 37 seconds into the second period, Czech veteran Robin Soudek whipped a shorthanded shot from the high slot past Kamloops starter Cam Lanigan.
Kamloops had four power-play opportunities in the second period but couldn’t beat Rathjen or Braden Gamble, who came on at 9:48. Still, the Blazers outshot the Royals 13-7.
Centre Chase Schaber beat Gamble with a shot just under the cross-bar at 11:29 of the third, for the Blazers’ only even-strength goal.
Victoria got a power-play score of its own two minutes later when defenceman Kade Pilton’s point shot appeared to hit a foot and change direction on Cole Cheveldave, who had taken over from Lanigan.
The Blazers closed out the scoring at 15:43 when winger Chase Souto, on yet another power play, accepted a nifty pass to the back door from defenceman Bronson Maschmeyer and tucked it home.
Charron felt his guys “didn’t check well” in the neutral zone in the third period, but even at that the Blazers held a 13-9 edge in shots. They finished with a 36-29 lead for the game.
One player Charron was particularly pleased with was Swiss forward Tim Bozon, 17, who followed up a strong intrasquad game with a fine performance against the Royals.
Bozon, who picked up one assist, set the tone for Kamloops on his first shift with a big hit on Victoria forward Steven Hodges. About three minutes later, Bozon, on the penalty kill, went down and blocked a shot. A few minutes later, he scored another big hit, this one on forward Lukas Kralik.
“Yes,” Charron said, “I was pleased with Bozon.”
As for the goaltending, it’s too early to put Cheveldave, Lanigan or Taran Kozun in the lead, simply because Kozun has yet to play. He’ll get his first chance tonight in Kelowna, likely splitting time with Cheveldave.
JUST NOTES: Among the Blazers scratches were F Matt Needham (elbow) and F Jordan DePape (hip flexor). Needham has been skating and has medical clearance to resume full contact on Monday. He hopes to play Friday when the Rockets are at Interior Savings Centre. . . . The Royals also signed two 2010 draft picks yesterday — F Reid Halabi of Edmonton and F Taylor Crunk of San Jacinto, Calif. . . . Victoria D Joe Hicketts of Kamloops, who signed Thursday, was in the starting lineup and had more than a handful of vocal fans in attendance. . . . The Red Deer Rebels have released F Tad Kozun, 18, the older brother of Blazers G Taran Kozun. Tad, who had a goal and two assists in the Rebels’ intrasquad game, will play at home for the SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks. . . . F Liam Stewart, the son of actress Rachel Hunter and rocker Rod Stewart, is in camp with the Spokane Chiefs.
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