By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers are one game from the quarter-pole and they continue to lead the WHL’s Western Conference.
Actually, the Blazers (12-5-0) are tied with the Tri-City Americans (12-5-0) and Portland Winterhawks (11-7-2), but, hey, they’re still on the top rung.
“It’s been better, probably, than I expected,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said Sunday afternoon. “I expected our team to be better and to do good things, but to say we would have this kind of start . . . the way the league is . . . to be honest with you, I’d have to say I didn’t expect it.”
A year ago, after 17 games, the Blazers were 8-8-1 and were sixth in the 10-team conference. More telling, however, was that they had scored only 54 goals, while allowing 70.
This time around, they are among the league leaders in both categories — they have scored 68 goals (4.0 a game) and given up 44 (2.59).
Despite the dramatic improvement on defence, Charron wants to see even better results.
“For us to improve,” he said, “we have to check better. We have to be a little bit tighter team defensively, checking up ice and picking up people. That’s an area we have to work on.
“We know we can generate offence; we know what our strengths are. Now we have to work on our weaknesses.”
The Blazers are coming off a weekend split with the Cougars in Prince George, having won 5-1 on Friday and then dropped a 3-1 decision on Saturday.
“We have a tough time playing against them,” Charron said. “Things aren’t easy for us against them.”
The Cougars, now 5-12-1, have only two victories in their last 10 games. They also have scored only 37 goals in 18 games.
“We should have an advantage in a one-goal game but that wasn’t the case (Saturday) night,” Charron said.
“I give them credit. They worked hard.”
Still, as Charron pointed out, the Blazers had their chances, especially in the third period when, trailing 2-1, they were presented with a 40-second 5-on-3 power play.
“We had our chances in the third period . . . it’s not like we didn’t,” Charron said. “Their young goaltender played well.”
That would be Devon Fordyce, a 17-year-old from Cochrane, Alta., who stopped 26 shots in earning his first WHL victory.
Forward J.C. Lipon gave the Blazers a 1-0 lead early in the first period. The Cougars tied the game two minutes later, with forward Brock Hirsche getting his first goal of the season.
Then, with the Blazers having been penalized for too many men, forward Troy Bourke scored what proved to be the winner, on the power play, at 7:42 of the second period.
The home team later got an empty-netter from forward Alex Forsberg.
This was the first time since opening night that the Blazers were held to one goal. On that night, the visiting Cougars beat them, 1-0.
“The scoring chances were the same both games,” Charron said. “Both teams had under 15 and that’s low for us. You have to give credit to the opposition.”
The Blazers, who are back on the ice today after taking Sunday off, are at home Friday, 2 p.m., to the Red Deer Rebels and Saturday, 7 p.m., to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
While the Blazers are at home preparing, the Rebels will play the Rockets in Kelowna on Wednesday. The Oil Kings, meanwhile, meet the Royals in Victoria on Tuesday and the Giants in Vancouver on Wednesday.
The Rebels, who beat the defending-champion Kootenay Ice 4-3 in overtime in Cranbrook on Saturday, are 11-4-1, their .719 winning percentage No. 3 in the 22-team league.
The Oil Kings, seen by most observers to have a boatload of young talent, are 10-5-2 and just one point behind the Rebels, who are four behind the Eastern Conference-leading Ice.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers were 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Cougars were 1-for-6. . . . Prince George had D Martin Marincin back in its lineup after he completed a four-game WHL suspension. . . . The Cougars (5-12-1) next play Friday and Saturday in Everett against the Silvertips. . . . The Blazers scratched F Cole Ully (undisclosed), F Jordan DePape (shoulder), D Landon Cross and F Aspen Sterzer. . . . DePape had surgery on his left shoulder on Thursday in Winnipeg. It is expected that he will be out for at least four months. He was injured in fight with F Emerson Etem of the Medicine Hat Tigers on Oct. 10. . . . The Winterhawks finished their 17-day, nine-game road trip with a 5-3-1 record after sweeping a weekend doubleheader in Kelowna.
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