|Dylan Willick of the Kamloops Blazers knows how defenceman|
Tyler Wotherspoon, goaltender Mac Carruth and the Portland Winterhawks
play the game of hockey.
(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
By GREGG DRINNANThe Kamloops Blazers’ excitement at having reached the second round of the WHL playoffs has been tempered by the loss of captain Chase Schaber.
Daily News Sports Editor
Daily News Sports Editor
Schaber, a 21-year-old from Red Deer, is in Royal Inland Hospital after undergoing exploratory surgery on his left leg Thursday during
“It’s tough to take,” offered veteran winger Dylan Willick on Thursday evening, after the team had returned from Victoria where it completed a first-round sweep of the Royals on Wednesday night. “His last season in the league and we have a good opportunity here.
“He’ll still be a big part of it and he’s got the leadership capabilities to speak up and be there for us.”
Willick added that “it’s adversity obviously,” but he pointed out the club played most of this season without veteran winger Jordan DePape, who underwent shoulder surgery in November and only returned to the club earlier this month. The Blazers also played 22 games last season without Schaber, who was battling leg and groin issues. And he missed 11 games with injuries this season, including the last six of the regular season.
“We had Jordan DePape out for (almost) the whole season and he’s a leader, too,” Willick said. “But we’re missing our captain now. That’s a huge leadership chunk.
“But he’ll still be around supporting us the same way he has been.”
Schaber was injured when he and Victoria forward Zane Jones came together along the boards.
“That’s the most unfortunate thing I’ve probably seen in my day . . . just terrible luck,” Willick said. “(Jones) turned and the skate got (Schaber) in just the right spot. You don’t ever want to see that.”
Willick and his teammates hope to have the opportunity to visit Schaber in hospital today.
And then they will begin to think about their second-round opponent, the Portland Winterhawks, who completed a sweep of the Kelowna Rockets last night.
The Blazers were 2-2-0 against Portland this season, including a 5-4 overtime victory in the Rose City on Oct. 14 and a 5-1 victory at home on March 7.
“They have a lot of offence,” Willick said of the Winterhawks, who finished with 102 points, three more than the Blazers. “They have a lot of guys who can score goals. It’s going to be a defensive mentality for us.”
The Royals swept a late-season doubleheader from visiting Portland, so Willick asked Victoria forward Tim Traber, a friend from their hometown of Prince George, how it happened.
“He said, ‘We just took it to them physically and eventually their D-men shied away,’ ” Willick recounted. “If we can learn from that and take that kind of game to them, that’ll be the game plan.
“We have to take the body on them.”
In that March 7 game, the Blazers erased a 1-0 deficit with five third-period goals in what may have been their best 20 minutes of the season.
“We know that they’re beatable,” Willick said. “We know we can do it. We’ve done it twice this season.”
The series is expected to begin with games in Portland on April 6 and 7. Tentative dates for Games 3 and 4 in Kamloops are April 10 and 11. Although dates had yet to be finalized last night, tickets are available at the Interior Savings Centre box office.
Willick, for one, can hardly wait to get started.
After all, the 28-goal man had a series-leading five goals against Victoria, scoring once in each of the first three games and then getting two in Game 4. His hot streak followed a six-game season-ending drought.
“There are little slumps here and there in the season,” he said, explaining that he wasn’t too concerned. “Obviously, I wanted to hit the 30-goal mark, but I knew if I just kept doing what I was doing the puck was going to go in eventually.”
Which is just what has happened.
“I’m just playing the game,” he added. “Every now and then the bounces go your way.”
As he pointed out, he scored two goals against Victoria with shots going in off a goal post.
“In Game 3, off the post, off a skate and it turned into the net somehow,” Willick said with a chuckle. “That’s a bounce I’ll take.”
The bounces have been especially sweet, too, because Willick was a freshman with the Blazers two years ago when they were swept from the first round by the Vancouver Giants. And he was part of the team that didn’t even make last season’s playoffs.
“It’s unbelieveable,” Willick said of the feeling that comes with the team having won a playoff round for the first time since 1999. “And after the last two seasons . . . to be on the opposite end of a series sweep is an unreal feeling.
“You don’t want to be a part of that other side ever. It’s awful.”
JUST NOTES: Kamloops went 10-1-1 against Victoria this season, outscoring the Royals 61-32 in the process. . . . The Kamloops power play went 5-for-19 in the four games, while its penalty killers were an exceptional 15-for-16. . . . The Blazers and Portland last met in the playoffs in the spring of 1995. They both advanced out of a round-robin series — Kamloops beat visiting Portland 6-0; the Winterhawks won 4-3 in OT at home — before the Blazers took a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal, 4-1. Kamloops lost the opener and then won four in a row. . . . The Blazers, of course, would go on to win the 1995 Memorial Cup.
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