By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Somehow it was only fitting that with Gordie Howe in the building, an elbow would play a prominent role in Wednesday night’s WHL game at Interior Savings Centre.
This game changed when an elbow belonging to Spokane Chiefs defenceman Corbin Baldwin came into contact with the head on the shoulders of Kamloops Blazers forward Dylan Willick at 13:17 of the third period.
Less than four minutes later, the Blazers held a 4-1 lead — that would be the final score — and Spokane had eaten its first regulation-time loss in eight games (6-1-1).
The victory allowed the Blazers (36-11-4) to stretch their lead atop the overall standings to four points over the idle Tri-City Americans (35-12-2) and Edmonton Oil Kings (33-12-6).
Kamloops will play the Giants in Vancouver on Friday night, then travel to Kent, Wash., for a Saturday night date with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
After Baldwin’s elbow levelled Willick, the 6-foot-5 defender was set upon by Kamloops centre Matt Needham, the 5-foot-10 freshman who had scored the home side’s first goal going at his opponent like a bantam rooster.
Just 32 seconds after Baldwin exited — he had been Spokane’s best player — Kamloops centre Brandon Herrod, back after six games on the shelf with a knee injury, beat goaltender Mac Engel through the legs from the left side and the home boys were on their way.
Winger Brendan Ranford, who had been stoned by Engel on at least four clear-cut scoring chances to that point, added insurance just 53 seconds later. Both those goals came with the teams playing 4-on-4, and defenceman Austin Madaisky added a power-play score at 17:05, Spokane’s discipline having disappeared somewhere in the middle of the Blazers’ offensive outburst.
The Chiefs got their goal in the second period from centre Dominik Uher, who was coming off a four-goal night Tuesday in a 5-3 victory over the host Thunderbirds.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave finished up with 20 saves, but wasn’t nearly as busy as Engel, who faced 30 shots and saw a lot of traffic as the Blazers skated hard all game.
Obviously, Richard Doerksen, the WHL’s vice-president, hockey, who deals with disciplinary matters, will be talking with Baldwin, who almost certainly will be suspended for a game or three.
It also will be interesting to see how the WHL office deals with the fact that the game wasn’t played to a conclusion.
With there having been three fights in the last minute, and a near line brawl with seven seconds remaining, referees Steve Papp and Matt Thurston chose to let the clock run out without dropping the puck.
The fun began with one minute left in the third period when Spokane forward Darren Kramer, who led the WHL with 46 fights last season and has a WHL-high 20 this season, skated through the Kamloops crease and bumped goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
Blazers defenceman Tyler Hansen promptly danced with Kramer. Hansen has had four bouts this season, two with Kramer. Last season, Hansen had three fights, one of them with Kramer.
With that cleaned up, play resumed and, with seven seconds left, things got ugly in the corner to the right of Engel.
There only were two fights — involving Uher and teammate Dylan Walchuk and the Blazers’ Chase Schaber and Aspen Sterzer — but the officials, obviously concerned with what might follow, chose to bring a premature end to the game.
And that’s not something that happens every day. It used to be a sometime occurrence, but hasn’t been since the days of bench-clearing brawls were brought to an end.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,253. . . . Ranford missed the early portion of the third period as he was getting his left ankle taped behind the Blazers’ bench. . . . Kamloops F J.C. Lipon left after two periods with an upper-body injury. . . . Blazers F Ryan Hanes returned after a 15-game absence with a concussion. He skated in F Tim Bozon’s place, alongside Lipon and Colin Smith for two periods. Lipon’s departure meant some scrambled lines in the third period. . . . Bozon was in Kelowna at the Top Prospects Game. . . . Kamloops had won the first two games of the season series, 6-4 here on Oct. 7 and 2-1 there on Nov. 18. They will play again in Spokane on March 14. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Needham: Played big against a tough team; 2. D Marek Hrbas, Kamloops: Outstanding; 3. Baldwin: A horse back there until his departure.
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