By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers and Portland Winterhawks will have some adjustments to make before they hit the ice tonight for Game 5 of their best-of-seven WHL Western Conference semifinal series.
The Blazers, no doubt still feeling the glow after erasing a 4-0 first-period deficit and winning Game 4, 5-4, at home on Wednesday night, will be without right-winger J.C. Lipon as they attempt to force Game 6 at Interior Savings Centre on Monday.
The Winterhawks, who take a 3-1 series lead into tonight’s game in the Rose Garden, may be missing right-winger Ty Rattie, a native of Airdrie, Alta., who is one of the WHL’s most-prolific offensive talents.
Lipon was suspended Friday morning for a Game 4 check that took Rattie out of that game and perhaps out of the Portland lineup indefinitely. Lipon wasn’t penalized for the hit but the Winterhawks requested supplemental discipline and he was suspended yesterday morning.
“You can’t really elaborate,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “It is what it is. You accept it and move on.”
Lipon drove Rattie into the side boards in Portland’s zone 12 minutes into the first period and then seconds later scored the Blazers’ first goal. Rattie went to the bench and was feeling his left lower back before going to the dressing room. However, his helmeted forehead struck the glass quite forcefully and he is believed to have a neck injury. Rattie was wearing a neck brace as he watched Portland practise yesterday.
“It’s really a neck problem,” Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ general manager and head coach, told Jim Beseda of The Oregonian. “There are no concussion symptoms. He said his pain seems a little bit better today and they’re just trying to take pressure off it right now by having him wear a brace.”
With Lipon gone, Charron did some juggling for yesterday’s practice in Portland. He put Brendan Ranford in Lipon’s spot, on the right side with Tim Bozon and Colin Smith. Cole Ully, who has been out with an undisclosed injury, skated in Ranford’s spot, with Brandon Herrod and Jordan DePape.
Which isn’t to say that’s how the lineup will look tonight.
“That may change . . . we’ll see how it goes (tonight),” Charron said. “You want to balance your lines because we don’t have last change. We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes and try to match as best we can.”
Charron had broken up the Ranford-Herrod-DePape line earlier in the series and then put it back together in the third period of a 5-2 loss in Game 3. That line responded with seven points in Wednesday’s startling comeback.
Smith’s line, meanwhile, has struggled of late and has just four points, none from Bozon, in the last five games.
Charron feels that Ully, who has yet to play in this series, is capable of injecting some offence into one of the top two lines.
“He has got some offensive ability,” said Charron of Ully, who had 20 points in 55 regular-season games while seeing mostly third- and fourth-line duty. “He’s probably in a better position to be put on a top line than to use him on the fourth line, which we would have had to. He’s in a better situation for him to produce.”
The Blazers, meanwhile, will have Cam Lanigan in goal for a fourth straight game. Cole Cheveldave, who was selected to the Western Conference’s second all-star team, remains out with a concussion. He has yet to pass his baseline test that would allow him to begin exercising and then return to practice. It is highly unlikely he would be able to play should there be a Game 6 here on Monday.
At the same time, Rattie’s absence would mean some adjustments by the Winterhawks. He finished third in the WHL in the regular season in goals (57) and points (121), and leads the WHL playoffs with 13 goals and 20 points.
Rattie, who turned 19 on Feb. 5, plays alongside Sven Baertschi and Marcel Noebels on Portland’s top line. Rattie, Baertschi and Brad Ross have played together all season on the first power-play unit, as well. In fact, Rattie led the WHL with 26 regular-season power-play goals and was tied for seventh, with 28 assists.
Johnston also is without veteran left-winger Oliver Gabriel, who is serving the final game of a four-game suspension for a late Game 1 hit on Cheveldave. (Gabriel was penalized for goaltender interference on that play. The Blazers later asked for and received supplemental discipline from the WHL office.)
Without Gabriel and Rattie, Johnston is likely to shorten his bench, moving Taylor Leier up with Baertschi and Noebels, leaving Cam Reid between Brendan Leipsic and Ross, and rotating freshmen forwards Nic Petan and Chase De Leo with Taylor Peters and Joey Baker. Under normal circumstances, Gabriel would play on a line with Leier and Peters.
However, the Winterhawks haven’t yet ruled Rattie out of the game. If he is able to handle the discomfort, he just may play.
“He has to be able to play well in order to play,” Johnston told The Oregonian. “We have other guys that are ready to step in if he’s not ready. I’m hoping it won’t take more than a couple days if he’s not ready (tonight).”
Rattie has been taking treatment from athletic therapist Rich Campbell, and also from a massage therapist and a chiropractor.
“The pain’s still there,” Rattie said, “but I guess we’ll see how it goes.
“Therapy is helping a lot. It’s getting better. So, I’ll wake up in the morning and we’ll go from there. Obviously, Rich has to give me the go-ahead, I have to feel right to play, and then the final decision is Mike’s.”
Charron is hopeful that all of this, combined with what transpired Wednesday night in Kamloops, will have the Winterhawks at least thinking about things.
“It gives us a sense of confidence,” Charron said. “For them, they can’t take us for granted. I’m sure they’re going to give it the best they can to finish it (tonight).
“We just have to be prepared for the challenge and play the way we can.”
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