By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The game wasn’t six minutes old and the Black Eyed Peas were singing “I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night” at Interior Savings Centre.
And it was exactly that if you are a fan of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.
The home boys counted twice on an early five-minute power play and then coasted to a 6-1 WHL victory over the struggling Everett Silvertips on Wednesday night.
The Blazers came into this one having won six in a row; the Silvertips, a young and rebuilding franchise, had lost six in a row. The result, then, was about what one might have expected.
As it turned out, the key moment came 150 seconds into the first period when Kamloops centre Matt Needham moved the puck from along the right boards in his zone. As Everett centre Josh Birkholz moved to check him, Needham passed the puck and went low. A closing Birkholz hit Needham in the head.
Everett head coach Mark Ferner said after the game that the ruling on the ice was that Needham already was engaged with a defensive player when Birkholz made contact.
As Birkholz, the leading scorer on a team that struggles to score, left the game with a major and game misconduct for a check to the head, Kamloops trainer Colin Robinson helped Needham to the dressing room. He was back for the second period but saw limited ice time and wasn’t on the bench at game’s end.
After the hit, forward Dylan Willick and defenceman Austin Madaisky scored power-play goals 56 seconds apart and the Blazers were on their way.
Seven minutes later, while killing a penalty, Blazers left-winger Brendan Ranford picked Ryan Harrison’s pocket behind the Everett net and beat goaltender Austin Lotz, a 16-year-old from St. Adolphe, Man., who was making his seventh career start, to up the lead to 3-0. It was the Blazers’ WHL-leading 10th shorthanded goal of the season; they had four all of last season.
The Blazers went on to finish 5-for-8 on the power play, as Willick, with his team-leading 17th, Colin Smith, with his 15th, and Ranford, with No. 16, all scored later with the man advantage.
Everett’s Evan Morden ruined Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave’s shutout bid with, yes, a power-play goal at 15:24 of the first period. Cheveldave stopped 29 shots but faced little in the way of sustained pressure as he improved to 13-3-1.
At game’s end, the music man played Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, when it perhaps should have been Corb Lund’s Long Gone to Saskatchewan.
The Blazers (21-7-1) leave tonight on a six-game swing into the East Division that begins Saturday against the Swift Current Broncos and wraps up Dec. 17 against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
As Kamloops heads east, it leads the B.C. Division by three points over the Vancouver Giants (19-10-2). The Giants went 4-1-1 on their East Division swing, so the bar has been set.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,082. . . . Everett (5-19-5) was 1-for-5 on the power play. . . . F Chase Souto also was missing from the Blazers’ bench at game’s end after a play on which Everett F Lucas Grayson drew a minor penalty for a check to the head. That came at 17:33 of the third period. . . . The Silvertips are eight points out of a playoff spot. . . . Everett F J.T. Barnett and D Josh Caron, both former Blazers, were in the Silvertips’ starting lineup. . . . It wasn’t a wedding like the Portland Winterhawks had on Friday night, but there was a proposal on the ice during the first intermission. Angela said “Yes” as Brandon popped the question. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Madaisky: A goal and three apples on the PP; 2. Willick: Two goals and always on the right side of the puck; 3. C Chase Schaber, Kamloops: Three assists. . . . The Blazers will return from Christmas to play in Vancouver on Dec. 27, with the Giants here on Dec. 28.