By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
After dining on the struggling Prince George Cougars three times last week, the Kamloops Blazers spent Wednesday night playing with the big dogs.
The big dogs discovered that there is another husky in the neighbourhood.
Goaltender Cole Cheveldave turned aside 30 shots and centre Colin Smith scored twice as the Blazers dumped the Tri-City Americans 3-2 in a WHL game that had some zip to it at Interior Savings Centre.
The Blazers (29-10-3) continue to lead the B.C. Division and now are just three points in arrears of the Americans (32-8-0), who lead the overall standings, the Western Conference and the U.S. Division.
The Americans arrived in Kamloops having won a franchise-record 13 straight games. They hadn’t tasted defeat since Nov. 30 when they dropped a 6-2 decision to the Rockets in Kelowna.
This was the first of three games in four nights for the Blazers. The Seattle Thunderbirds are here Friday night, followed by the Everett Silvertips on Saturday. And the Lethbridge Hurricanes will be here Wednesday.
Those three teams have combined for 39 victories in 123 games.
Last night’s game, then, was the litmus test for the Blazers, who had outscored the Cougars 13-1 in the three-game sweep.
In the end, the Blazers passed the test (give them an A-plus) with defenceman Tyler Hansen’s first goal of the season — and the fourth of his 161-game career — which up as the winner.
Hansen’s shot from the point got through goaltender Ty Rimmer’s legs at 17:37 of the third period. That came just seconds after Kamloops forward Brandon Herrod fired wide on a glorious opportunity from the slot. Winger Brendan Ranford corraled the loose puck off the end boards, fed it to Hansen and his shot got through traffic and through goaltender Ty Rimmer.
Kamoops forward Colin Smith scored the game’s first two goals, his 21st of the season coming early in the first period and No. 22 at 1:07 of the third.
The second goal was official after a video review that looked at the position of Smith’s stick as he redirected a point shot by Tyler Bell.
The Blazers later lost a video review after Ranford finished off a 2-on-1 by getting the puck to the Tri-City net. Americans forward Brendan Shinnimin and Rimmer ended up in the crease with the puck somewhere underneath them. Ranford signalled as though he had scored, but the call on the ice was ‘no goal’ and video review didn’t find conclusive evidence to overturn that decision.
Given a 2-0 lead by Smith, it looked as though Cheveldave might make that score hold up and escape with a shutout. But the Americans, who twice had staged third-period rallies during the winning skein, weren’t able to equalize.
The visitors twice got to within one, on goals by forwards Jesse Mychan, in his first game since coming over from the Everett Silvertips, and Jordan Messier.
After the Blazers got that two-goal lead early in the third period they were pretty much in control, thanks to Cheveldave’s steady play.
On this night, Cheveldave did it all, directing traffic — if you were there you heard him yelling: “Who’s got who? Who’s got who?” — and stopping pucks. The 18-year-old freshman from Calgary now boasts a 21-5-3 record. Not only is he in the rookie-of-the-year conversation, but if this keeps up — and why shouldn’t it? — he’ll be in the player-of-the-year chatter.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,069. . . . The Blazers have equalled last season’s victory total when they went 29-37-6 and missed the playoffs. . . . The Blazers and Americans will next meet Jan. 21 in Kennewick, Wash. . . . Tri-City was 1-5 on the PP; the Blazers were 0-4. . . . Tri-City head coach Jim Hiller was behind the bench for his 400th regular-season game last night. This was No. 184 with the Americans; the other 216 were with the Chilliwack Bruins. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Smith: Two goals in big game; 2. Cheveldave: He’s the man; 3. D Zach Yuen, Tri-City: A horse for the visitors. . . . The Blazers got solid games from a number of players, none better than Bell, who made a lot of correct decisions, and F Cole Ully, who had a couple of early scoring chances. . . . NHL Central Scouting released its midseason rankings yesterday and Kamloops F Tim Bozon is at No. 39 among North American skaters. . . . Spokane head coach Don Nachbaur got his 500th WHL coaching victory as the host Chiefs beat the Everett Silvertips 6-1 last night.