|Ryan Hanes of the Kamloops Blazers hits Shea Theodore of the Seattle|
Thunderbirds early in the first period of Saturday's WHL game in Kent, Wash.
(Photo by Christopher Mast / Mastimages.com)
By GREGG DRINNANThe Kamloops Blazers left it too late last season and never did qualify for the WHL playoffs.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
There will be no such mistake this season — the Blazers became the first team to qualify for postseason play when they skated past the host Seattle Thunderbirds, 3-1, in Kent, Wash., on Saturday night.
That decision also left the Blazers (37-12-4) atop the WHL’s overall standings, two points ahead of the Tri-City Americans (37-12-2) and four ahead of the idle Edmonton Oil Kings (34-12-6), who lead the Eastern Conference.
The Blazers and Americans will conclude their season series Wednesday at Interior Savings Centre. Kamloops goes into that game with a 2-0-1 edge; from the other side, the Americans are 1-1-1.
On Saturday, the Blazers gave up the game’s first goal, to Colin Jacobs at 7:26 of the first period, but came back to hand the Thunderbirds their fifth straight loss.
The Thunderbirds (18-31-2), who are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games, remain in eighth place in the Western Conference, meaning a first-round playoff matchup between Kamloops and Seattle is within the realm of possibility.
Brendan Ranford tied it six minutes later and Cole Ully got the eventual winner in the last minute of the second period. Ully, with seven goals this season, has four game-winners, second on the Blazers to Ranford (7) and Chase Schaber (6). Ully also has goals in back-to-back games after going 12 games without a goal.
“He’s not scoring from the outside; he’s scoring from the crease,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said of Ully, a freshman from Calgary who will turn 17 on Feb. 20. “We’re fortunate with our kids . . . they’re very determined young people. Cole Cheveldave, Matt Needham, Cole Ully . . . all our young guys have good minds . . . for doing what it takes to be a successful player.”
When Brandon Herrod was out with a knee injury, Ully, a second-round selection in the 2010 bantam draft, got to skate alongside Ranford and Schaber. On Saturday, with Herrod back, Ully was on a line with Needham and veteran forward Dylan Willick.
“It’s been the strength of our team,” Charron said. “When somebody’s missing who has good numbers, somebody else steps up.”
Tim Bozon completed the scoring with an empty-netter at 19:17 of the third period.
The Blazers, who beat the visiting Spokane Chiefs 4-1 on Wednesday and then dropped a 7-5 decision to the Giants in Vancouver on Friday, got 38 saves from goaltender Cam Lanigan, who has won his last three starts, two of them against Seattle. Lanigan, 19, has allowed only five goals over that time.
“He was good,” Charron said. “The last few games have given him a little bit of confidence. We’re encouraged by that. It looked like he was in control the whole game, and that’s a good sign.”
Seattle goaltender Calvin Pickard made 40 saves.
The Blazers were without two regulars — defenceman Tyler Hansen and right-winger J.C. Lipon.
Hansen suffered an undisclosed injury — Charron said it is of the “upper body” variety — on Friday in Vancouver, took the warmup in Kent and then was scratched. According to Charron, Hansen is possible for Wednesday.
Lipon, meanwhile, suffered a concussion in the second period against Spokane and hasn’t played since. “He feels pretty good,” Charron said, adding that Lipon “has to pass another test today.”
Lipon is questionable for Wednesday, and may return for a weekend home-and-home series with the Kelowna Rockets. They will play here Friday and in the Little Apple on Saturday.
JUST NOTES: The Blazers continue to have the WHL’s best road record (18-6-4), their .714 winning percentage well ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers (18-8-2, .679). . . . Kamloops is 6-2-1 in its last nine road games. . . . Overall, the Blazers are 12-2-1 in their last 15 games. . . . The Blazers swept the season series from Seattle, outscoring the Thunderbirds 23-7 in the four victories. . . . Ranford, who drew an assist on Ully’s winner, has six game-winning assists. That means he has been in on 13 game-winning goals this season. . . . Ranford, who leads the team with 29 goals, also has seven goals over his last six games, including one in each of the last four. . . . The WHL was quiet on Super Bowl Sunday.
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