By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Dylan Willick enjoyed his sixth two-goal game of the season Saturday to help the Kamloops Blazers to their 40th victory of the season Saturday, 3-2 over the host Kelowna Rockets.
This represents the 16th time in 31 seasons that the franchise has won at least 40 games.
However, the Blazers hadn’t won 40 games in one season since 2006-07 when the team finished 40-26-6. Prior to that, the Blazers last won that many regular-season games in 1998-99 when they went 48-11-13 (the 13 being ties) and ended up in the WHL final.
“At the start of the season, we wanted to split the season into 10 seven-game segments,” explained forward Dylan Willick, who scored twice in Kelowna on Saturday. “The goal was to win four out of every seven games and by the end of that you’re looking at about 40 wins.
“We’re exactly on pace and would like to finish with well over 45.”
The Blazers (40-12-4) have 16 games remaining in the regular season. Should they finish with 50 victories, it would be the ninth time in franchise history. Were they to run the table, their 56 victories would equal the franchise record — the 1989-90 team finished 56-16-0.
Told that the franchise record was 56, Willick said: “We’d have to win every game from now to the end of the season.”
Then he paused and added: “Why not?”
The Blazers go into this week leading:
(a) the WHL’s overall standings by three points over the Eastern Conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings, who blanked the Cougars 5-0 in Prince George on Saturday and who are scheduled to play here on Tuesday night;
(b) the Western Conference by six points over the Tri-City Americans; and,
(c) the B.C. Division by 17 points over the Vancouver Giants, who were beaten 3-2 by the Silvertips in Everett on Saturday.
On Saturday, Willick’s second goal broke a 2-2 tie as the Blazers won their fourth straight game. Willick’s game-winner, at 8:20 of the third period, was his 23rd goal of the season, one shy of his career high from last season.
“It was a nice play by (Brendan) Ranford,” said Willick, who had just hit the ice during a line change. “I got open and Ranford gave it to me . . . a nice little tuck five-hole.”
Defenceman Bronson Maschmeyer and Willick had scored power-play goals in the last 2:06 of the first period as the visitors took a 2-0 lead.
The Rockets came back with two PP goals of their own, defenceman Myles Bell scoring at 9:00 of the second period and winger Carter Rigby equalizing at 1:59 of the third.
Ranford finished with two assists as he extended his point streak to seven games. He has 13 points, including seven goals, in that stretch. However, his six-game goal-scoring streak came to an end.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave finished with 38 saves as he won for the 28th time in his freshman season. That included a 20-save first period.
“I don’t think the first period was our best period,” Willick said. “They had 20 shots. . . . We gave them some scoring chances that we probably shouldn’t have.
“Other than that, we had a pretty well-rounded game for 100 minutes on the weekend.”
He was including all but the first period of Friday’s 5-4 overtime victory over the visiting Rockets, a period in which Kelowna scored four times.
As for his own game, Willick admitted it felt good to get a couple of goals.
“After that hot start, things kind of cooled off a bit,” he said. “I started getting assists but the goals weren’t doing exactly what they were at the start of the season.”
Willick, 19, scored 18 times in the season’s first 31 games and now has five goals in his last 25 outings. His game, however, is as much about defensive responsibility and penalty killing as it is about offence.
“I’d feel different about it if the team wasn’t winning,” he said. “But we just got our 40th win . . . I don’t necessarily have to be on the scoresheet. I can contribute in other ways and stay positive about it. The puck is going to find the net eventually.”
The Rockets (24-25-7) have lost three straight and are destined to finish sixth in the Western Conference. The Blazers hold a 5-0-1 edge in the season series that will be completed March 2 and 3 when the teams will play another home-and-home series, opening here and finishing there.
JUST NOTES: Blazers F Colin Smith had his six-game point streak snapped. He had eight points, including five goals, during that time. . . . Ranford drew an assist on Willick’s game-winner. That leaves Ranford with eight game-winning assists to go with his seven game-winning goals. . . . This was Willick’s sixth two-goal game of the season. . . . F Jordan DePape, who hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury on Oct. 10, is scheduled to rejoin the Blazers today, although he isn’t likely to play until sometime in March. . . . The Blazers also are at home Friday and Saturday, with the Red Deer Rebels and Calgary Hitmen here.
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