|Things have been looking up of late for Kamloops Blazers goaltender|
Cam Lanigan, here in action against the Seattle Thunderbirds
in Kent, Wash., on Feb. 4.
(Photo by Christopher Mast / mastimages.com)
By GREGG DRINNANDaily News Sports Editor
While the Kamloops Blazers are enjoying some success during this WHL regular season, it hasn’t been the kind of winter that goaltender Cam Lanigan envisioned.
Oh, Lanigan, like his teammates, is enjoying a ride that has taken the club to the top of the WHL’s overall standings. It’s just that as he was preparing for this season, Lanigan thought he would have a better place than the end of the bench from which to take in the action.
The Blazers (41-12-4) go into two weekend home games — the Red Deer Rebels (25-26-5) are at Interior Savings Centre tonight, with the Calgary Hitmen (33-22-3) there on Saturday — on a five-game winning streak. At home, they have won nine straight and 15 of 16.
Kamloops, which is 17-3-2 since its Christmas break, leads the WHL’s overall standings by three points over the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Western Conference by seven points over the Tri-City Americans and Portland Winterhawks.
Lanigan, a 19-year-old from Calgary, came into training camp prepared to be the team’s starter. But he got off to a slow start and, by the time he found his game, freshman Cole Cheveldave, an 18-year-old Calgarian, was firmly entrenched as the go-to guy.
But, like a good boxer, Lanigan has gotten up off the canvas and is putting the pieces back together.
“I started to put a string of wins together,” he said after beating the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings 3-2 on Tuesday night. “I’m just trying to get our team two points. I’m not too worried about my stats at this point of the season.”
Lanigan was acquired from the Oil Kings, in exchange for fellow goaltender Jon Groenheyde, on Nov. 4, 2010. Lanigan’s early days with the Blazers were nothing to write the NHL about — he went 3-9-0, 5.59, .843 — as he backed up Jeff Bosch.
The Blazers, you may recall, opened this season carrying three goaltenders, the third being Taran Kozun. Lanigan started opening night — he gave up a soft goal in a 1-0 loss to the Prince George Cougars — and four of the first 10 games. But he gave up 11 goals in the next three starts, going 1-2-0 in the process, and it wasn’t long before Cheveldave was the starter.
At one point, Cheveldave started 24 of 26 games. Of late, however, Lanigan has played well enough that he at least is making head coach Guy Charron think before he chooses a starter.
“His last starts have been good,” Charron said of Lanigan. “Before, he put doubt in our mind whether he could to it. But coming in after the first period against Kelowna and his last few starts, he has played well.”
Lanigan has started four of the last 12 games and has been solid, backstopping his mates to four victories. Throw in 45-minutes of shutout relief in an overtime victory over the Kelowna Rockets a week ago and he is 5-0-0 with a 1.47 GAA and a .949 save percentage in his last five appearances. For the season, he is 12-4-0, 2.70, .904.
“They are starting to come,” he said of his statistics. “They were hurting . . . but they’re climbing back. I try not to look at them too much. I just want to give our team a chance to win.”
Charron said Cheveldave will start tonight, and that a decision has yet to be made about Saturday.
The Rebels, meanwhile, are nearing the end of a season that started with promise but has since turned into a nightmare.
They played like one of the WHL’s top teams in beating the host Blazers 5-3 on Nov. 11, after which they were 13-4-1 and three points out of the lead in the Eastern Conference. But, after losing 3-1 to the Cougars in Prince George on Tuesday, they are eight points out of the conference’s last playoff spot.
Out with long-term injuries are G Patrik Bartosak (shoulder), D Aaron Borejko (concussion), F Colten Mayor (thumb), F Joel Hamilton (back) and D Justin Weller (wrist). F Adam Kambeitz (ankle) and D Kayle Doetzel (ribs) are listed as week-to-week. F John Persson didn’t play Tuesday and is day-to-day. Hamilton, who suffered two fractured vertebrae in a Saturday game, was released from hospital yesterday.
The Rebels dressed 17 skaters, one under the maximum, in Prince George and that included three players from the midget AAA ranks. F Scott Feser, the younger brother of Tri-City Americans F Justin Feser, joined the Rebels from the Red Deer Optimist Rebels, while D Kevin Pochuk plays for the Winnipeg Wild and Dexter Bricker is in from the Swift Current Legionnaires.
The Hitmen, meanwhile, opened a three-game tour of B.C. by beating the Victoria Royals 5-3 on Tuesday.
The Hitmen, who meet the Rockets in Kelowna tonight, headed west having lost four in a row and five of six, that slump coming after they had won 14 of 15.
The frustration reached a boiling point on Sunday when head coach Mike Williamson did the water-bottle-throwing thing during a 4-0 loss to the visiting Kootenay Ice. Williamson has since been fined $750, so his shopping on this trip has been curtailed.
The Hitmen are without power forward Jaynen Rissling, who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.
JUST NOTES: Kamloops D Bronson Maschmeyer (lower body) suffered an injury in practice Thursday at Memorial Arena. “It’s going to be a game-time decision,” Charron said. “It’s a minor thing.” Maschmeyer has played in 201 consecutive regular-season games, all with the Blazers, who acquired him from the Vancouver Giants before the 2009-10 season. The Giants scratched him from the lineup for their final game of 2008-09. . . . Calgary F Jimmy Bubnick, who began his career with the Blazers, has career highs in goals (26), assists (32), points (58) and plus-minus (plus-15). He’s 20 so this is his final WHL season. . . . Through 28 home dates, the Blazers’ average attendance is 4,036. They drew their largest crowd of the season — 5,044 — to Tuesday’s game.
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