|Chase Schaber (10), Matt Needham and Dylan Willick (11) celebrate the latter's|
goal, the first of the game for the Kamloops Blazers on Friday night.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
So, Tim Bozon, how was your first taste of the WHL playoffs?
“It was really intense from the regular season,” offered Bozon, after his two-goal effort had helped the Kamloops Blazers end a 19-game playoff losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Victoria Royals at Interior Savings Centre.
The Blazers hadn’t won a WHL playoff game since March 30, 2005, when they beat visiting Kootenay 3-2 in Game 3 of a first-round series the Ice would win in six games.
The teams will play here again tonight. Game time is 7 o’clock.
The scene then shifts to Victoria for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Tonight’s game, as with all games in this series, will be shown live on Shaw TV.
Bozon, who scored 36 goals in the regular season and has been named the Western Conference’s rookie of the year, broke a 1-1 tie at 4:13 of the second period when he scored off a nifty against-the-grain back pass by Colin Smith. Bozon later got the game’s final goal when a shot by defenceman Austin Madaisky hit a post and caromed in off the shaft of Bozon’s stick.
“We beat them seven times in the regular season,” said Bozon, referencing the fact his side was 7-1 against Victoria, “and this wasn’t an easy game.
“The first seven minutes I was surprised. They were coming hard and I had to be prepared to get hit.”
Such is life in the WHL playoffs.
In fact, the second period wasn’t even over and Bozon, who was born in St. Louis but joined the Blazers from Switzerland, had the look of a warrior, his upper lip swollen and oozing blood after being hit with a puck.
The game started as expected, with the underdog Royals, who finished 44 points behind the Blazers, having brought their physical game with them. Defenceman Jordan Fransoo delivered a couple of hard checks on forwards Matt Needham and Chase Schaber; Victoria forward Taylor Crunk popped Madaisky; defenceman Tyler Stahl knocked down Bozon; forward Robin Soudek checked Aspen Sterzer . . . and on it went.
But the hardest hit of the opening 20 minutes may have belonged to Kamloops defenceman Marek Hrbas, who stamped forward Tim Traber.
The teams played to a 1-1 tie in a physical first period — Dylan Willick counting for Kamloops and Robin Soudek, via the power play, for the visitors.
Willick’s goal was the result of some solid work by Needham, who won a one-on-one battle with defenceman Keegan Kanzig beside the Victoria net. That allowed Willick to bang home the puck.
The Blazers took over in the second as they scored three times, the last two — from Bozon and Schaber — 47 seconds apart, and were spending more and more time in the offensive zone.
“I thought outside of 10 minutes it could have gone either way,” said Victoria GM/head coach Marc Habscheid, referring to a bad spell in the second period. “We did a lot of things we wanted to and we were right there. So we’ll try and build off it.”
The Royals were outshot 34-27 but did force Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave into a couple of terrific saves, one in particular — a glove save off forward Ben Walker after a crazy bounce off the end glass — bringing the crowd of 4,948 to its feet.
“We got in on the play and created some turnovers,” Habscheid continued. “I just thought their best players raised their games and I thought our best players weren’t our best players.”
The Royals are a team that isn’t going to score a lot of goals off the rush, choosing instead to harrass defenders into turnovers, then get the puck to the net and create havoc. So the Blazers want to get the puck deep into the Victoria zone and make the Royals bring it back 200 feet. For the most part, Kamloops was successful in doing that.
“We had some jitters in the first period,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said, “but you also have to give credit to the other team.
“But after the first period, we got to play more the style we needed to play to be successful. From that moment on it went well.”
If there was a concern with the Blazers’ game, it may be with a power-play unit that was 0-for-4, although Schaber’s goal came four seconds after Victoria defenceman Keegan Kanzig was let out of stir following a checking-from-behind minor for a hit on Jordan DePape.
“I think we did some good things,” Charron stated. “They had killed 42 of 44 penalties coming into this game, so we knew we were faced with a good penalty-killing team. Schaber’s goal wasn’t a power play but it resulted form a power-play situation.
“It’s more of a concern if you don’t win the game and you wish your power play had done something.”
JUST NOTES: Victoria G Keith Hamilton stopped 30 shots. . . . Schaber, in his first game after a six-game injury-related absence, also had an assist. . . . Referees Steve Papp and Brett Montsion chose not to hand out penalties from any of a number of last-half scrums. “It’s one of those things,” Charron said. “It’s really up to the officials what they’re going to let go and not let go. Overall, I think it was good. We try to preach to our players, ‘If you get into a scrum get out of there.’ ” . . . Kanzig picked up three of Victoria’s five minors and also took a late-game misconduct. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Bozon: The eye of the tiger; 2. Madaisky: Leader on the back end; 3. Hrbas: Tough and strong.
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