Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Daily News Sports Editor

Two teams. Two philosophies.
With their WHL Western Conference semifinal series with the Winterhawks scheduled to open in Portland on Friday, the Kamloops Blazers practised Wednesday afternoon at home and then departed by bus at 11 p.m.
They chose to ride through the night, rather than leave earlier in the day and spend the extra night in a hotel. After arriving in Portland on Thursday, they practised at 11 a.m.
The Blazers dropped 5-3 and 4-1 decisions, returning home immediately after Saturday’s Game 2.
The Winterhawks, meanwhile, left Portland on Sunday, in time to get into Kamloops early Sunday evening. After sleeping in hotel beds, they practised Monday morning at Interior Savings Centre.
As the teams prepared for Game 3, the Blazers had spent two of the previous six nights on their bus. The Winterhawks’ had yet to sleep anywhere but in a bed.
“I’ll take a bed over a bus any day,” Portland forward Taylor Peters said.
Peters, who turned 20 on Jan. 24, has played 280 WHL games with Portland, including 29 in the playoffs, so has put on some bus miles.
He feels that when it comes to player fatigue, “You could easily chalk that up to improper rest. I’d have to think it plays a major part in a player’s overall performance.”
However, Kamloops defenceman Austin Madaisky disagrees.
“I don’t think it matters,” said Madaisky, 19, who has played in 248 WHL games, 10 of them in the postseason. “Playing in this league, you see all kinds of travel things. Whether you’re going overnight, whether you’re going day of (a game), we do it all.
“At this point, it doesn’t make a difference.”
Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said the travel didn’t impact his club at all.
“Whatever it is right now,” he said, “the start of our games have been good. It hasn’t been the start. . . .”
The teams will play Games 3 and 4 tonight and Wednesday at Interior Savings Centre. Should the Blazers win one or both of those games, it will mean making the trek back to Portland for Game 5 on Saturday.
If that happens, the Blazers won’t ride the bus overnight this time. Charron said they will leave Thursday in time to get to Portland that evening.
If the Blazers have a concern going into Game 3, it has to be with their power play.
They were 0-for-4 with the man advantage in the opener and then went 0-for-7 in Game 2. Throw in Game 4 of their first-round sweep of the Victoria Royals, when Kamloops was 0-for-2, and the Blazers are 0-for-13 through their last three games.
“We’re very confident with how we played,” Madaisky said of the first two games in this series. “Maybe if our power play had scored on one or two of those opportunities it would be a completely different series.
“We’re getting chances but it comes down to the point where you have to start putting pucks in the net.”
The Blazers did a lot of power-play work during practice yesterday. That included having Chase Souto work on a forward unit with Brandon Herrod and Dylan Willick.
Souto, a 17-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif., scored nine goals this season, none on the power play, but he has a team-leading two goals in this series.
The Blazers continue to be without F Cole Ully, a freshman forward from Calgary who is out with an undisclosed injury. Ully took part in Wednesday's practice but wasn't on the bus to Portland, so didn't play in either of the first two games.
Charron said yesterday that Ully isn't ready to play tonight. Of course, team captain Chase Schaber (leg) also is out; in fact, his season is over.
The Winterhawks were busy off the ice yesterday as they signed F Paul Bittner, a 6-foot-5, 185-pounder from Crookston, Minn.
Bittner was one of two Grade 9 players on Crookston High School’s varsity team this season. He had 19 points, including a team-high 15 goals, in 20 games. He also took part in a recent U.S. National Team Development Program under-17 evaluation camp.
Last week, Ty Rattie. This week, Sven Baertschi.
Rattie was the WHL’s first postseason player of the week after he lit up the Kelowna Rockets for 13 points, 10 of them goals, in a four-game first-round sweep.
Yesterday, the WHL announced that Baertschi has succeeded his linemate as player of the week. Baertschi has three goals and three assists in the two games against Kamloops.
“Their two guys are producing almost at will right now,” Charron said of Rattie and Baertschi, who play on a line with centre Marcel Noebels. “They’re a tough line to play against. They’ve got a great transition. We are trying to eliminate the involvement of their defencemen in their transition game. They’re going to get chances but their defencemen are a big part of their offence.”
NHL Central Scouting has released its final rankings of players who are eligible for the NHL’s 2012 draft.
The Blazers had two players in those rankings — F Tim Bozon at No. 42 and D Brady Gaudet at No. 205, among North American skaters.
The Winterhawks, who have 11 players on their roster who have been drafted or signed by NHL teams, had four players show up in Central Scouting’s rankings — D Derrick Pouliot, 12th; D Josh Hanson, 102nd; F Brendan Leipsic, 114th; and F Taylor Leier, 131st.
The Blazers have two players on their roster who have been drafted — F Brendan Ranford by the Philadelphia Flyers and Madaisky by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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