By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers have been forced to shuffle their goaltending deck as they prepare for a home-and-home WHL series with the Vancouver Giants.
Cam Lanigan, who left in the second period of Wednesday’s 6-3 victory over the visiting Victoria Royals, didn’t make the trip to Vancouver on Thursday evening so won’t be on the bench tonight. He isn’t likely to be there on Saturday either, when the teams stage a rematch at Interior Savings Centre.
That means Cole Cheveldave is scheduled to get both starts, which may well have happened anyway, seeing as he has played all four games against the Giants this season.
The Blazers are 2-1-1 against Vancouver, with Cheveldave having a 3.18 GAA and a .882 save percentage.
With Lanigan unable to suit up, the Blazers have brought in Liam McLeod, 15, a ninth-round selection in the 2011 bantam draft to back up Cheveldave. McLeod, who is from Kamloops, played this season with the Thompson Blazers, who didn’t qualify for the B.C. Major Midget League’s playoffs.
Lanigan, who left the game after being stepped on during a goal-mouth scramble that resulted in Victoria’s third goal, was at practice Thursday; he just wasn’t on the ice. Rather, he was helping trainer Colin Robinson around the bench area.
“It’s not serious,” Lanigan, 19, said. “I got stepped on . . . there’s some swelling. I’ll be fine.”
Had Cheveldave been injured later in the game, Lanigan said he would have tried to go back in.
“I kept my skates on,” he said. “Just in case . . .”
Lanigan had missed a game last weekend due to illness.
“The Norwalk virus . . . a 24-hour thing,” he said.
He missed a 3-2 loss to the visiting Red Deer Rebels a week ago tonight. The Blazers had Ty Hamer-Jackson of the midget AAA North Kamloops Lions on the bench for that one.
With 12 games left in their regular season, the Blazers can start thinking about some of the WHL’s spoils.
For starters, it isn’t too soon for the Blazers, who go into the weekend leading the 22-team league’s overall standings, to be thinking about pennants.
Because the WHL seeds its teams by conference standings before the playoffs begin, the division standings don’t mean a whole lot. In fact, the only spot that means anything is top spot, with the first-place finisher being seeded first or second in the conference.
The Blazers, of course, have led the B.C. Division for most of this season and now are in a position to wrap it up as early as this weekend. They hold a 14-point lead over the Giants as the two teams open a home-and-home set tonight in Vancouver.
A sweep would give Kamloops an 18-point lead with the Giants having nine games remaining, and the Blazers holding the tiebreaker, the first of which is most victories. The Blazers last finished first in the B.C. Division in 2001-02; the Giants finished on top for five straight seasons before winding up second last season, behind the Kelowna Rockets.
The Giants (35-22-4) will visit Interior Savings Centre on Saturday, 7 p.m.
These teams have met only four times this season, so have four games left to play — they also will play March 9 and 10.
The Blazers have beat the Giants 6-2 and 3-1 at home; Kamloops lost 4-3 in a shootout and 7-5 at Pacific Coliseum.
In the Dec. 27 shootout loss, the Giants got two goals — one in regulation and the game-winner in the circus — from F Alex Kuvaev, who was playing in his first game after joining Vancouver from his native Russia.
Since then, he has scored but once in 25 games and, in fact, has just three assists in 10 February games.
The Giants will get two forwards back from WHL suspensions for tonight’s game.
Marek Tvrdon, the club’s second-leading scorer behind Brendan Gallagher, served a three-game suspension after taking a match penalty for spearing in Spokane on Feb. 14, while forward Anthony Ast served four games after being hit with a charging major against the host Tri-City Americans on Feb. 14.
Tvrdon will be back on the Giants’ top line, with Gallagher and Riley Kieser, who has 10 points in 20 games since coming in from the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos.
As well, F Dalton Sward will be available after having missed 18 games with a shoulder injury. He is expected to skate alongside Nathan Burns, who has five goals in the four games against Kamloops, and Taylor Makin.
The Blazers’ sixth goal in Wednesday’s victory was credited to F Aspen Sterzer following the game.
Originally, it was given to F Matt Needham, with an assist to D Tyler Hansen.
Shortly after, it was changed, with F Dylan Willick getting the goal and assists going to Hansen and Needham. Finally, it went to Sterzer from Hansen and Willick.
Sterzer, who has five goals, had gone 25 games without a goal. He last had scored on Dec. 14 when he got two goals in a 6-3 victory over the Blades in Saskatoon.
JUST NOTES: Kamloops D Austin Madaisky will complete a two-game WHL suspension tonight. He was suspended after taking a cross-checking major against the visiting Calgary Hitmen on Saturday. . . . D Ryan Rehill, a 16-year-old from the Edmonton-South Side Athletic Club, continues to practise with the Blazers. He was a sixth-round pick in the 2010 bantam draft. . . . F Jordan DePape, 19, who hasn’t played since Oct. 10 because of a shoulder injury that needed surgery, is skating with his teammates while wearing the yellow no-contact uniform. The Blazers hope to have him return early next month, perhaps against the Portland Winterhawks. That would give him six games to get ready for playoffs. . . . With five home games remaining, the Blazers are averaging 4,045 fans per game. Last season, not including the ‘home’ game the Blazers played in Whitehorse, they finished the regular season with an average attendance of 4,206. . . . Blazers F Brendan Ranford is on an 11-game point streak, with 18 points, nine of them goals, over that stretch. . . . Kamloops F Colin Smith has 15 points, including six goals, over his last 11 games. He has at least a point in 10 of those games. . . . Kamloops won the season series from Victoria, 7-1, outscoring the Royals 39-21 in the process. . . . The Blazers were 4-for-6 on the power play in Wednesday’s victory. They scored a season-high five PP goals in a 6-1 victory over the visiting Everett Silvertips on Dec. 7.
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