|Brendan Ranford of the Kamloops Blazers loves nothing better than to|
have the puck on his stick in front of the opposing goaltender.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
By GREGG DRINNANIt’s doubtful that any player on the Kamloops Blazers’ roster is enjoying this season more than winger Brendan Ranford.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
The 19-year-old from Edmonton is in his fourth WHL season here and is the only player remaining from the 2008-09 team. Yes, he has experienced more ups and downs than a roller-coaster.
“It’s been a long time . . . I kind of joke around with the guys about me being the only guy from my 16-year-old season still here,” Ranford said Tuesday after practice at Interior Savings Centre. “You don’t really see that. . . . Usually you have at least one or two more guys, even another 19-year-old or a 20-year-old.”
That’s not the case, however, as the Blazers ran an inordinate number of players through their dressing room before arriving where they are now.
That, of course, is on top of the WHL’s overall standings. They take a 35-11-4 record — and a two-point lead over the Tri-City Americans (35-12-2) and Edmonton Oil Kings (33-12-6) — into tonight’s game against the visiting Spokane Chiefs, who beat the host Seattle Thunderbirds 5-3 on the strength of four goals from Dominik Uher last night.
“It’s good to see,” Ranford said. “I’ve been waitiing patiently to have a good season and we are.”
It isn’t that the Blazers put up such horrible numbers over the previous three seasons; it’s just that, like Ranford, they were s-o-o-o inconsistent.
“This season, I just wanted to be more consistent,” he explained. “Last season, I had such a hot start and I was on such a roll. And then I plateaued and then it went downhill and I ended up the season with not good things.”
There is no need to revisit the end to Ranford’s 2010-11 season; suffice to say he cross-checked a linesman and drew a six-game suspension. He would prefer to remember the first half of last season when he scored 28 goals in 32 games. However, he scored just five times over his last 36 games.
“This season, I wanted to slowly get better and better,” he said, “and work on my defensive game.”
For the most part, he has been successful.
“I’ve seen more consistency,” he said. “That was my biggest thing coming into this season, to not have those bad nights when you’re minus-3 or minus-4 and then have a plus-4 game the next night.”
A seventh-round selection by the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL’s 2010 draft, Ranford leads the Blazers in points (60) and is tied with winger Tim Bozon for the lead in goals (26). In January, Ranford put up 16 points, including seven goals, in 12 games. He also was a plus-9. Since Nov. 12, he has recorded 42 points in 32 games.
Consistent? In that 32-game stretch, he has been held pointless only seven times.
Going into tonight’s game, Ranford would like to see more production from the power play. It isn’t that the power play has been terrible — it is ranked eighth in the 22-team league, at 22.6 per cent. It just hasn’t been consistent, going 7-for-48 (14.6) over its last nine games.
“We aren’t keeping it simple, that’s probably the biggest thing,” Ranford stated. “We have so much skill on the power play that we feel it’s just going to come. We haven’t been terrible . . . we’re still running at around 20 per cent. It’s going to come.
“We have enough skill there that we will make the simple plays and the simple plays will work.”
During a weekend split with the Royals in Victoria, the Blazers were 2-for-10 on the power play, scoring two goals late in Saturday’s 5-1 victory. That left head coach Guy Charron wondering if it might be time to start flooding the front of the oppostion net and then getting pucks to follow.
Ranford suggested the same thing.
“We need to get pucks through with traffic and get in the goalie’s kitchen,” he said. “Keep battling in front and jamming in rebounds. It’s not going to come on the first opportunity; it’s going to come on the second and third chances that you get. That’s how a good power play works.”
The return of veteran forward Brandon Herrod, who has missed six games with a knee injury, would help, too. Herrod, 20, played six games alongside Ranford and Chase Schaber before he was injured in practice on Jan. 16.
“We’re still trying to figure out how each other plays,” Ranford said. “Having him back, we’re going to get that chemistry and we should be a good line.”
Herrod is likely to take the pregame warmup tonight, after which a decision will be made as to whether he plays.
Meanwhile, forward Ryan Hanes is scheduled to return after a 15-game absence. Hanes, 19, was injured during an altercation at Cactus Jack’s Saloon on Dec. 23.
JUST NOTES: The Chiefs are 28-14-7. They are 7-0-1 in their last seven games. . . . Gordie Howe is scheduled to be at tonight’s game. . . . After tonight, the Blazers are to play the Giants in Vancouver on Friday — Howe will be there, too — and the Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash., on Saturday. Kamloops returns home to face the Americans on Feb. 8. . . . G Cole Cheveldave will start for Kamloops. He is 25-6-5. . . . Blazers D Tyler Hansen is tied with Tr-City D Zach Yuen for the league lead in plus-minus, at plus-33. . . . The Kamloops line of Colin Smith between Bozon and J.C. Lipon is a combined plus-80. Smith is plus-28; Bozon and Lipon each is plus-26.
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