Monday, February 20, 2012

Goaltender Chris Driedger of the Calgary Hitmen wasn't able to corral this shot
by Kamloops forward Dylan Willick, who got the Blazers' third goal with this
shot on Saturday night. Driedger and the Hitmen went on to win the game, 5-4.

(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Mike Williamson won’t admit it, but it may have been the best $750  he ever spent.
On Feb. 12, with his team losing its fourth game in a row, the head coach of the Calgary Hitmen threw a water bottle-tossing tantrum for which he was ejected and later fined — it cost him $375 per bottle.
On Saturday night, with Jimmy Bubnick scoring his 100th regular-season goal and setting up two others, the Hitmen beat the Kamloops Blazers 5-4 at Interior Savings Centre for their third straight victory since Williamson’s show.
“I don’t think (Feb. 12) had anything to do with it,” said Williamson, whose squad had won 15 of 17 before its short-lived slump. “Our team has been close. The wheels just got off the track a little bit. We played really well this trip.”
Bubnick, with all due respect to his head coach, feels otherwise.
“I think so,” Bubnick replied when asked if Williamson’s rant served as a wakeup call. “It’s good to see emotion like that. When your coach gets into the game like that it says a lot about him. I think we responded well. In the end, it was a good move by him.”
So did the players chip in to help Williamson pay his fine?
“Ha ha,” a chuckling Bubnick said. “No, we didn’t.”
Williamson will have to be content with a three-game sweep in the B.C. Division — a 5-3 victory over the Victoria Royals and a 7-1 whipping of the Kelowna Rockets preceded Saturday’s victory, one that had some suspense attached to it.
“We knew the game wasn’t closed until the last buzzer went,” Williamson said. “(The Blazers) have a lot of firepower and they’ve come from behind enough, especially recently, so we knew that they weren’t going to lay down. We had to come up with some big stops at the end and fortunately we were able to do it.”
The Blazers played well for the game’s first six minutes, but their chances of victory were dealt a blow at 6:39 of the first period when referee Brett Montsion ejected defenceman Austin Madaisky with a cross-checking major for a hit on Calgary forward Alex Gogolev.
“All I saw was (Gogolev) was low,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “He got hit in the neutral zone. How many times do we see those hits? This is the game of hockey. If a guy puts himself in a vulnerable position . . . I didn’t think it was a direct hit from behind . . . it was a hit in the neutral zone that turned out bad.”
Calgary captain Cody Sylvester scored two power-play goals 1:18 apart and the Blazers were in chase mode for the fourth time in five games.
Kamloops drew even on goals by Colin Smith, his 30th, at 16:46 of the first and Dylan Willick at 10:09 of the second period.
However, winger Brendan Ranford was penalized for hooking at 14:40 and Calgary’s Victor Rask broke the 2-2 tie with five seconds left in the penalty.
When defenceman Kenton Helgesen beat Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave through traffic at 2:16 of the third period, the Blazers found themselves down by two, again.
Willick got them back to 4-3, with his 25th goal, on a PP at 13:13, only to have Bubnick get his 100th goal, and career-high 27th this season, less than two minutes later.
Ranford got the Blazers to within one at 18:07, but that was it for the home boys.
“We’re going through a small stretch of time where things aren’t working for us right now,” Charron said.
The Blazers are 22-8-0 at home, where they now have lost two in a row for just the second time this season. Overall, their longest losing skid this season has been two games, something that has happened on six occasions.
They’ll try to snap out of it Wednesday against the visiting Victoria Royals.
The Blazers (41-14-4) continue to lead the WHL’s overall standings, but they now have three teams — the Edmonton Oil Kings, Tri-City Americans and Portland Winterhawks — just three points in arrears.
The Hitmen, now 35-22-3 and fourth in the Eastern Conference, will be back home by Wednesday. And Bubnick will be looking for No. 101.
“It took me a few games but I couldn’t have written the script any better,” said Bubnick, who was selected by the Blazers with the fifth pick of the 2006 bantam draft. “To get my 100th goal here and my 300th game . . . it’s been a pretty memorable season. And I can’t remember scoring a bigger goal.”
Bubnick played his 300th career game here on Dec. 30 as the Hitmen won, 6-3. He played his first 182 games with the Blazers before being traded on Jan. 10, 2010, along with Tyler Shattock and Zak Stebner, for Chase Schaber, who didn’t play Saturday because of an undisclosed injury, and Madaisky.
Bubnick, Shattock and Stebner helped Calgary to the 2010 WHL championship, while Schaber is in his second season as the Blazers’ captain and Madaisky has blossomed into a top-end defenceman.
However only Bubnick was around to contribute Saturday.
“I’ve got a lot of close friends here, a lot of good fans here,” the 20-year-old native of Saskatoon said. “It’s a great organization and I couldn’t be happier to see how they’re doing this season.”
Bubnick now has career highs in goals (27), assists (34) and points (61), eclipsing his 25-32—57 log from 2008-09 with the Blazers.
“He’s been very good,” Williamson said. “His leadership . . . his approach . . . he has been one of the hardest-working guys every day at practice and in games. He has been incredible for us.”
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 3,942. . . . The Blazers are 15-4-4 in one-goal games. Each of their last five games has been decided by a goal — they are 3-2-0. . . . Ranford ran his points streak to 10 games. . . . Madaisky likely is looking at a suspension, although the Blazers will point out to the WHL office that Gogolev wasn’t injured on the play. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Bubnick: A great ‘homecoming’; 2. Sylvester: Two goals and energy; 3. Willick: Rewarded for strong play.

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