By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Brendan Ranford could only watch as his Kamloops Blazers teammates struck for 14 goals over their last two WHL games.
It was kind of like being the youngster who isn’t allowed into the new sandbox.
“We played well,” Ranford said following practice at Memorial Arena on Thursday, “but I wanted to be back in the lineup.”
That will happen tonight as the Blazers (2-1-0) welcome the Spokane Chiefs (1-1-1) to Interior Savings Centre. Game time is 7 o’clock; the game also will be televised by Shaw.
The Blazers then will bus to Everett for a Saturday night tilt with the Silvertips (0-1-2), before returning home to face the Medicine Hat Tigers on Monday at 2 p.m. The Tigers took a 2-2-0 record into a game last night in Victoria against the Royals last night.
Ranford, the Blazers’ high-scoring left winger, had to sit out the first three games of this regular season as he completed a six-game suspension left over from last season.
Without him, the Blazers went 2-1-0 in three home games, losing 1-0 to the Prince George Cougars, then swatting the Vancouver Giants 6-2 and the Royals, 8-2.
Ranford said he was especially excited with his team’s offensive production over the last two games.
“It shows that we do have the depth this season, “ he said, “and that I don’t have to score every game and we can still end up winning. It’s awesome to have that.
“We have a good team right now and in the three games we only gave up five goals.”
Ranford’s trials and tribulations in the second half of last season have been well documented — how he scored 30 goals in his first 39 games, but then counted only three times in his last 29 games, and how he came unravelled in Game No. 69, cross-checked linesman Kris Hartley, who was escorting him to the penalty box after a skirmish against the visiting Kelowna Rockets, and subsequently was suspended for six games.
To Ranford’s credit, he asked Richard Doerksen, the WHL’s vice-president, hockey, to arrange a meeting with Hartley, who is from Kamloops.
“We had a meeting and I apologized to him,” Ranford said. “Mr. Doerksen was really genuine . . . it could have been more. He could have given me 15 games . . . it’s a good thing that he only gave me six.”
The finish to his season blurred the fact that Ranford still was able to put up 86 points in 68 games.
And he sees no reason why he can’t continue at that kind of pace, starting tonight.
“We had an awful second half but that’s over and done with,” Ranford said. “We have to be consistent this whole season. With the start that we’ve had, it should be a good one.”
Ranford will start the game back on a line with centre Chase Schaber and Jordan DePape.
“This will be a test for them,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “They played well together last season and had some chemistry.”
But, from what Ranford witnessed over the last two games, that line should have some help on offence.
The Blazers have gotten good production from a line that has Colin Smith between Tim Bozon and J.C. Lipon. They have combined for 15 points.
And, when J.T. Barnett returns from a knee injury, which could be sometime this weekend, perhaps even tonight, he will skate on a line with centre Matt Needham and Dylan Willick. Barnett had 21 goals two seasons ago with the Vancouver Giants, but fell off to 13 last season with the Blazers. They have moved him back tot he right side in the hopes that he can recapture his scoring touch.
“This should be a good test,” Ranford said, “with me and Barnett coming back . . . hopefully, we can play the same way we’ve been playing.”
Charron said the goaltending plan has Cam Lanigan starting tonight, with Taran Kozun backing up. On Saturday in Everett, Cole Cheveldave is scheduled to start, with Lanigan on the bench.
Charron said he isn’t in any rush to trim a goaltender from the roster, adding that he is quite prepared to wait for the situation to sort itself out.
With Barnett’s return to active duty, the Blazers will have 25 healthy bodies on their roster. And Charron sounds as though he would like to keep everyone around, at least through Christmas.
“We don’t want to get caught short in numbers again,” he said, referring to what happened in December when the Blazers lost players to Christmas tournaments and ended up playing with 15 skaters, three under the limit.
Carrying 22 skaters also allows the coaching staff more options.
As Charron said, “When you’re not playing well, you won’t be in.”
JUST NOTES: F Darren Kramer, who turns 20 on Nov. 19, is the Chiefs’ new captain. Kramer led the WHL in fighting majors (46) last season, the first of which came in Kamloops against D Corey Fienhage. Kramer had 14 points, including seven goals, in 68 games last season, after which he was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the sixth round of the NHL draft. This season, in two games, Kramer has two goals and one minor penalty. . . . F Liam Stewart (shoulder) won’t play for Spokane tonight. He is the 17-year-old son of actress Rachel Hunter and rock legend Rod Stewart. . . . Kamloops F Aspen Sterzer has been awarded an assist on his club’s last goal in the victory over Vancouver. That was his first WHL point and came in his 12th career game, 10 of which were played last season. . . . Following Sunday’s victory over Victoria, D Tyler Hansen lost an assist on his club’s sixth goal; it went to Smith, giving him a four-point night. Hansen then was given an assist on the Blazers’ fourth goal. . . . D Jordan Thomson, selected fourth overall by the Blazers in the 2011 bantam draft, has earned a spot on the Manitoba team for the U16 Western Challenge in Moose Jaw, Oct. 27-30. Thomson plays for the midget AAA Southwest Cougars, who play out of Souris, Man. . . . F Dallas Calvin, who has signed with the Blazers, was to have played with the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters this season. However, Calvin, 16, left the Smokies after being a healthy scratch for one game and has returned to the KIJHL’s Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
Taking Note on Twitter