Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blazers' numbers are looking good

Daily News Sports Editor
The numbers are starting to add up to the real deal for the Kamloops Blazers.
After their two-day, two-victory mid-week jaunt to Victoria, the Blazers, who didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season, are 18-7-1. That has them atop the B.C. Division, one point up on the Vancouver Giants, who are touring the East Division.
The Blazers also are second in the Western Conference, just one point in arrears of the Tri-City Americans.
As well, Kamloops is just four points behind the Kootenay Ice (19-5-3). Kootenay is the defending champion and leads the overall standings.
The Blazers, who welcome the Prince George Cougars to Interior Savings Centre tonight, 7 o’clock, for the annual Teddy Bear/Toque Toss, have won their last four games. They are 9-2-1 on the road, which translates to a .792 winning percentage, the best in the 22-team league.
The Blazers’ key number, however, has to be 73. They have allowed 73 goals in 26 games, five of them in Wednesday’s 6-5 overtime victory in Victoria. Kamloops is giving up 2.81 goals per game, and only the Ice (2.04), Americans (2.62) and Edmonton Oil Kings (2.63) have better defensive records.
If you’re wondering, the Blazers are scoring 4.04 goals per game, behind only the Brandon Wheat Kings (4.38) and Portland Winterhawks (4.18).
Last season, after 26 games, the Blazers were 13-12-1 and were struggling defensively, having already given up 106 goals.
The Blazers have only three home games left before the Christmas break — and they are against three of the Western Conference’s four bottom-feeders, each of them under the guidance of someone who played and coached here.
Dean Clark’s Cougars (8-17-2) are ninth in the conference but have been better on the road (6-9-1) than at home (2-8-1). The Cougars also are the only B.C. Division team to have beaten the Blazers, having gone 2-2 against Kamloops.
Prince George will be without forward Brock Hirsche and defenceman Reid Jackson, both of whom are injured, while forwards Chase Witala and Jarrett Fontaine have been fighting the flu.
Marc Habscheid’s Royals (11-15-2) have lost six straight games and nine of 10. Three of those recent losses have been to the Blazers, who are 4-0 against Victoria this season. These teams will meet eight times this season — Saturday’s game will be their fourth meeting in nine nights.
Mark Ferner’s Everett Silvertips will play here Wednesday in the Blazers’ last home appearance before Christmas.
Everett’s roster includes right-winger J.T. Barnett and defenceman Josh Caron, both of whom were acquired from the Blazers last month. Caron, who was traded on Tuesday evening, practised with his new club for the first time yesterday.
The game Wednesday will mark the first appearance here by Ferner, who played three seasons with the Junior Oilers/ Blazers and also coached the Blazers. He is in his first season as head coach of the rebuilding Silvertips, who are 5-17-4 and last in the Western Conference.
After playing the Silvertips, the Blazers will head out on a six-game swing into the East Division. They won’t be at home again until Dec. 28 when the Giants are here.
JUST NOTES: Tonight’s game will be televised by Shaw TV. . . . Kamloops G Cole Cheveldave has started his club’s last seven games, with the club going 5-1-1 in that stretch. . . . G Cam Lanigan, who hasn’t started since a 5-2 victory over the visiting Oil Kings on Nov. 12, will start tonight. . . . Blazers captain Chase Schaber has seven points, five of them goals, over his last four games. . . . Kamloops LW Tim Bozon, a Swiss freshman, has 21 points, including 10 goals, in 21 games. The Blazers haven’t received point-a-game production from an import since 2006-07 when Juuso Puustinen, who is from Finland, totalled 71 points in 64 games. . . . The Cougars haven’t played since last weekend when they went south and beat the Seattle Thunderbirds 3-2 in a shootout and the Spokane Chiefs, 5-4. . . . The Cougars are the WHL’s weakest team offensively, scoring just 2.33 goals per game. . . . The Royals will play the Rockets in Kelowna tonight.
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