|Matt Needham, Cole Ully, Tyler Hansen and the Kamloops Blazers did a lot|
of celebrating on Friday night.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
The Prince George Cougars won’t appear in the WHL playoffs this spring.
In the fall, though, they’ll be back in Prince George.
“I can tell you that I am 100 per cent committed to Prince George next season,” Cougars owner Rick Brodsky said prior to his club’s 10-4 loss to the Kamloops Blazers at Interior Savings Centre on Friday night.
The Blazers victory ended any chance the Cougars had of earning a Western Conference playoff spot. Prince George went into the game four points out of eighth place with two games remaining, so needed to win out and get a whole bunch of help if it was to qualify.
The Blazers, meanwhile, clinched top spot in the B.C. Division a while ago and will go into the playoffs as the conference’s second seed. They will meet the No. 7 seed in the first round but only know that it will be either the Victoria Royals, who are seventh now, or the Seattle Thunderbirds, who are three points back.
The Royals wrapped up their regular season last night; the Thunderbirds are at home to the Everett Silvertips tonight and then go to Portland to play the Winterhawks on Sunday evening. Seattle needs to win both games in order to finish seventh.
Of course, an Everett victory tonight would put Kamloops up against Marc Habscheid’s Royals in a best-of-seven series that would open here on Friday.
Like the tide rolling in, the Blazers simply overwhelmed the visitors last night, burying them with a six-goal third-period.
The Cougars, who at one time had 10 regulars out with injuries, are still without five players, four of them veterans. Last night, they had six 16-year-olds in their lineup and the youth was no match for the Blazers.
Centre Colin Smith, who had but one goal in his previous nine games, led the Blazers with three goals, his first hat trick of this season and the third of his career giving him 35 goals this season.
His play was reflective of the way his side played as it got off to a slow start, perhaps slowed by a pregame awards ceremony, and then picked up the pace.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of energy but we stayed with it and we played a real good final 40,” Smith said. “Things weren’t going in but we were investing . . . doing the right things and it paid off in the third.
“You keep hitting the door and once it goes down that’s what happens.”
The Blazers also got a huge night from the line of Brendan Ranford, Brandon Herrod and Jordan DePape. They had been a collective minus-9 and spent nine minutes on the bench during a 6-4 loss to the Chiefs in Spokane on Wednesday. Last night, they had 10 points and were plus-5.
Herrod had a goal and three assists, DePape scored twice and added a helper, and Ranford had a goal and two apples as he ran his season total to 92 points.
But it was DePape’s play that was most impressive, if only because he was playing only his seventh game since missing 58 with a shoulder injury. He now has 10 points since his return.
“Bounces weren’t really going our away and our work ethic wasn’t there,” DePape said of the game in Spokane. “I think we rebounded well tonight.”
DePape said he is feeling “pretty good.”
“I’m feeling more confident and more confident. I’m feeling good,” he added. “I’ve taken a few bumps and a few bumps unexpectedly and I’ve felt fine. Those are the ones, when I’m not looking . . . I have to be aware but at the same time I have to go out there and play my game.”
Which is pretty much what the Blazers did in the second half last night.
Cole Ully, Chase Souto and Ryan Hanes also scored, accounting for Kamloops’ last three goals.
Caleb Belter, Jake Mykitiuk, Jake Forsberg and Alex Forsberg replied for the Cougars, who were outshot 39-27, including 32-20 over the final two periods.
“As the game went on . . . we got going in the second period,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “We just have to play and do the things we need to do to be successful. Our power play worked tonight and those are the kinds of things that build some momentum.”
The Blazers were 3-for-5 with the man advantage, two of the goals coming early in the third period to blow open what had been a 5-3 game.
Brodsky, meanwhile, admitted that he had talks with Chilliwack interests about 10 months ago, after the Bruins had been sold and ticketed for Victoria. Brodsky, whose club often plays in front of about 1,300 fans, said he hasn’t spoken with anyone from Chilliwack since then.
And, he said, he isn’t especially interested in talking to them.
“We will be back in Prince George,” he said. “For sure.”
The Blazers and Cougars will close out their regular-season schedules tonight in Prince George.
“We need to just play our game . . . play hard and play smart,” Charron said.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,899. . . . Prince George D Daniel Gibb left the game on wobbly legs after an early third-period collision with DePape. . . . Prince George F Campbell Elynuik won’t play tonight after taking a cross-checking major at 18:08 of the third period. . . . As well, Prince George D Cody Carlson may have injured his right hand after blocking a Brady Gaudet shot late in the game. . . . The Blazers were without F Chase Schaber, their captain, for a fifth straight game. A leg injury will keep him out of tonight’s game, too. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Smith: Hungry around the net; 2. Herrod: Better and better; 3. DePape: Almost in midseason form.
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