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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blazers' line fuelled by chemistry

Tim Bozon (left), Colin Smith and J.C. Lipon give Kamloops one
of the WHL's premier forward lines.

(Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor

Most comedians are known for a line.
“Take my wife,” muttered Henny Youngman. “Please.”
“I went to a fight the other night,” said Rodney Dangerfield, “and a hockey game broke out.”
“A house is just a place to keep your stuff,” said George Carlin, “while you go out and get more stuff.”
The Kamloops Blazers have a line, too. They just don’t expect the opposition to find it at all funny.
Colin Smith centres Tim Bozon and J.C. Lipon. A 19-year-old from Edmonton who gets around in a Hummer H3. An 18-year-old left winger who was born in St. Louis, speaks English, French, Italian and German, lives in Switzerland, and plays internationally for France. A 19-year-old right winger from Regina who is a national-calibre wakeboarder.
Together, they put up 221 points, including 90 goals, last season.
Chemistry? The Nutty Professor should have had such chemistry.
It all began with the second game of last season. The Blazers had lost their season-opening game “then we got put together,” says Smith.
“The first game was against Vancouver and I think we had a couple of goals,” Smith says, referring to a 6-2 Kamloops victory in which he scored once and the other two combined for five assists. “The next game was against Victoria and it was kind of our coming out party, if you want to put it that way.”
The Blazers buried the Royals 8-2 in that one, with Lipon scoring twice and setting up two others, Smith getting a goal and three assists, and Bozon picking up one of each.
They only got better as the season went on, too.
“When we really started to have good chemistry was in the second half,” says Bozon, who was honoured as the Western Conference’s rookie of the year and later found himself being selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the NHL’s 2012 draft. (Smith was taken by the Colorado Avalanche in the seventh round; the undrafted Lipon later signed a tryout deal with the Avalanche.)
They also learned that a hockey season is much like a ride on a roller-coaster.
Lipon: “When you are playing together for so long, you can go into little droughts. But we always ended up back together.”
Smith: “It’s good, too, if one guy is having an off night, the other two guys kind of pick him up. We have that sense of confidence in each other.”
Bozon: “We know if one of us is weak one game, we aren’t going to change the lines. We are going to be back together the next game.”
Put all of that together and what do you have?
“It’s confidence,” Smith explained. “For a long time, whatever the reasons were, we had some down years, but the bar was raised last season. It’s almost like a standard . . . We want to win and that’s our goal.
“In the past, it was kind of ‘we’ll see what happens’ and unfortunately we were on the wrong side of a lot of games. Now it’s ‘we want to win’ and that’s our expectation.”
“Going into a game now,” Lipon says, “you have it in the back of your mind that we’re going to win this game.”
Then, referencing a 5-4 overtime victory over the Vancouver Giants on Sept. 7, in which he scored the winner, Lipon added, “The other night we were down 4-1 in the third period, and it was ‘We’re not going to lose this game.’ ”
It would seem that Lipon benefited more than anyone from this alliance. After all, he topped out at three goals in each of his first two seasons with the Blazers. Last season, he scored 19 times and finished with 65 points.
What happened?
“I changed my curve,” Lipon says, exhibiting a dry wit that is far beyond his years.
Seriously, after getting four points against Victoria in that 8-2 victory, he realized he could still score.
“But,” he adds, “I still think my goal on the line is to take the body.”
If a successful line has a hitman, a playmaker and a shooter, Lipon would fill the former role, with Smith as the assist man — he had 35 goals and 50 assists — and Bozon the one who loves to shoot and score.
And there may not be a line in the WHL that cycles the puck in the offensive zone the way these guys do. They love to get the puck deep and work over the other team’s defencemen.
“That’s probably our biggest asset,” Smith says. “In the league now, it’s tough to get a whole lot off the rush. We try to use the whole zone and each other.
“Our whole team, we practise it a lot. As a team identity, we try to thrive off the cycle.”
And now, coming off the successes of last season, Bozon, Smith and Lipon are prepared to lead their teammates into another winter.
“You want the puck and you want to be out there in key situations,” Smith says. “It’s awesome having two guys that you feel confident with out there with you.”
They know, too, that they will have targets on their backs. After running with the big dogs last season, the Blazers won’t be sneaking up on anyone.
“Last season, in meetings with coaches,” Bozon says, “they said to be ready for next season because everybody knows us now.
“It’ll be a challenge.”


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