Sunday, February 26, 2012

Giants victory postpones pennant clinching

That leg that is resting on the back of Kamloops defenceman Austin
Madaisky during a scrum belongs to Vancouver captain Brendan
Gallagher. The Giants beat the host Blazers 5-3 on Saturday night.

(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers’ first opportunity to clinch the WHL franchise’s first B.C. Division pennant since 2001-02 ended with head coach Guy Charron standing at the players’ bench yelling at referee Matt Thurston.
“Nice call,” Charron hollered, his voice audible over the booing of many of the 4,610 fans who remained to the bitter end at Interior Savings Centre on Saturday night.
Ten seconds after Thurston penalized Kamloops defenceman Austin Madaisky for hooking at 19:13 of the third period, Vancouver’s Marek Tvrdon broke a 3-3 tie with a screamer from the high slot and the Giants went on to defeat the Blazers, 5-3.
By the time Charron emerged from the dressing room, he was considerably more restrained than he had been minutes earlier.
“No comment,” he said, before adding that “it was one of those games that you didn’t know what was going to get called.”
In the last minute of the third period, Vancouver captain Brendan Gallagher drove down the right wing in the Kamloops zone and worked to cut around Blazers defenceman Austin Madaisky. As the two battled for position, Gallagher went down and Thurston’s arm went up.
“That’s how he plays,” Kamloops winger Brendan Ranford said of Gallagher. “He plays hard . . . he draws penalties like that.”
Gallagher had, well, a typical Gallagher night. He drew three penalties and scored two goals, the second into an empty net.
That second goal, his 38th this season, was the 274th point of his career, giving him the franchise record. The first goal had tied him with Adam Courchaine (2001-05).
“It’s pretty special to me,” said Gallagher, 19, who also holds the franchise’s career record for goals and is 15 assists shy of that record, too. “A lot of people have helped me . . . it’s not individual even though my name is on it. Every player I’ve played with . . . I’ve had a lot of good veteran players when I was young to learn from and see how they act. I was put in a really good situation and I’m thankful for that.”
He was thankful for the victory, too, because the Blazers had taken it to his guys for the game’s first 25 minutes.
After Gallagher opened the scoring at 7:32 of the first period, Chase Schaber, who also had two assists, and Ranford beat goaltender Adam Morrison five minutes apart to give the home boys a 2-1 lead.
The Blazers were full marks for that lead, too, as the Giants struggled to handle the home team’s speed and its forechecking and cycling games.
It appeared that the Blazers had seized control when Ranford upped the lead to 3-1 with his 36th goal, via the power play, at 4:21 of the second period.
However, it wasn’t to be.
“In the second half of the game,” Gallagher said, “we just started moving our feet and . . . we forced them to make plays under pressure. Every player has a tough time with pressure. When you’re doing that to teams it’s good.
“We got our legs going and we got a big goal from Jackson Houck. He’s a young guy and he stepped up.”
Houck, a 16-year-old from North Vancouver, put a puck through goaltender Cole Cheveldave from a bad angle at 13:16 to get the Giants to within a goal.
Then, just 56 seconds later, defenceman Brett Kulak dipsy-doodled off the left wing and beat Cheveldave to tie it.
Which served to set the table for Tvrdon.
As Charron put it: “If you’re killing penalties with 46 seconds to play, there’s not much to say. We broke down. They scored a goal.”
In truth, this one slipped away from the Blazers in the second period.
“The second period was our worst period again,” said Charron, whose charges had watched a 2-0 lead turn into a 2-2 tie in the second period of Friday’s 6-2 victory in Vancouver. “They outchanced us. They outworked us to the puck and they outworked us when they had the puck. That’s really the bottom line.”
Overall, though, Charron wasn’t too disappointed.
“We allowed ourselves (a chance) to win the hockey game in the third period,” he said. “We felt pretty good about ourselves and it was decided by a last-minute call.”
Of course, had Kamloops winger Tim Bozon fired that shot another inch or two to the right at 13:55 of the third period . . .
“We were dominating that whole third period, I felt,” Ranford said, “and we were getting back to it, but the bounces weren’t going our way. Bozon hits the post and it goes from there.”
Yes, Charron allowed, “Bozon hit the goal post. It’s a fine line this game of hockey . . . that’s why it’s such a great game.”
A pennant-clinching party will have to wait, as the Blazers (43-15-4) now are 14 points ahead of the second-place Giants (36-23-4), who have nine games remaining. However, in the overall standings, Kamloops has slipped a point behind the Tri-City Americans (44-15-3), who won Sunday, and is tied with the Portland Winterhawks (43-15-4), who lost in OT.
Kamloops next plays in Portland on Tuesday. The Blazers then will meet the Silvertips in Everett on Wednesay before returning home to face the Kelowna Rockets on Friday.
The loss Saturday was only the fifth time in 28 games against B.C. Division opposition that the Blazers were beaten in regulation time. They are 21-5-2 in B.C., and 14-1-1 against U.S. opposition.
JUST NOTES: Cheveldave finished with 26 saves, eight more than Morrison. . . . Vancouver was 1-for-6 on the PP; the Blazers were 1-for-4. . . . Madaisky returned after serving a two-game suspension for a cross-checking major he incurred a week earlier. . . . With Kamloops G Cam Lanigan (groin) sidelined, the Blazers had Liam McLeod backing up Cheveldave. McLeod, a ninth-round selection in the 2011 bantam draft, spent the season with the major midget Thompson Blazers. . . . The Blazers scratched F Matt Needham with an undisclosed injury. He is probable for Tuesday in Portland. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Gallagher: He stirs the Giants’ drink; 2. Ranford: Three points and a 13-game point streak; 3. Houck: Key goal.

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