By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The magic came back . . . and just in time.
The Kamloops Blazers’ big line, which had been drier than a Texas July, ended a six-game drought with a combined 14 points Friday night in a 6-4 WHL victory over the Portland Winterhawks at Interior Savings Centre.
With Tim Bozon, Colin Smith and JC Lipon seemingly back in form, the Blazers made their four-game losing skein disappear, along with Portland’s 12-game winning streak.
“I said at the beginning of the season that that line would be an entertaining line,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “It’s worth the price of admission just to watch those guys play.”
Lipon scored twice and added three assists; Smith had a goal and four assists; Bozon had two of each.
Mike Johnston, Portland’s general manager and head coach, offered: “It was a trade chances type of game . . . their top line and our top line . . . we can’t have that.
“They won it. They had a great night.”
The Blazers (18-5-1), who had lost five of the six games that followed a 14-game winning streak, also moved four points ahead of the Winterhawks (16-4-1) atop the WHL’s overall standings.
“We’ve had points but in some games you’re not going to score like that,” Lipon said. “Sometimes you’re going to have a few bad games but you can’t panic.”
Smith added: “There’s been a lot of speculation about our success and our lack thereof in the last while. We came out with jump right off the get-go and we were able to get that first one. That was absolutely key.”
Bozon got that one, just 52 seconds into the game, and Smith said that was important, even though Portland centre Taylor Peters got it back at 4:05.
“Any time on the first shift or two that you are able to create a chance and especially score,” Smith said, “it makes things a little bit easier to settle into the game.”
Brendan Ranford, a left winger turned centre with regular linemates Dylan Willick and Jordan DePape injured, restored the Blazers’ lead on a power play and defenceman Tyler Hansen gave them a 3-1 lead before the first intermission.
The Winterhawks tied it on second-period goals by forwards Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic, before Lipon scored what in hindsight was the game’s most important goal.
Bozon’s goal had come on a tic-tac-toe play with him finishing into an empty net, and the three magic men did it again just 1:28 after Leipsic’s goal, this time with Lipon tapping in the short putt.
Smith scored early in the third period to give the home boys a two-goal edge, only to have defenceman Troy Rutkowski get the visitors back to within one at 5:21. Lipon finally iced it with an empty-netter at 19:55. It was his WHL-leading 19th goal. He also leads in points (48), with Smith tops in assists (31) and just a point back, at 47.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave, who stopped 30 shots, held the fort in the third period. As Charron said, “Our goalie made some key saves in the third period, like on a breakaway.”
Cheveldave made a number of solid stops in the third period and all but owned Portland’s Ty Rattie, one of the WHL’s best offensive players. Rattie also missed a couple of open nets.
Mike said Rattie was “a little bit snakebitten. He doesn’t usually miss like that.”
But Johnston was quick to add: “I give Cheveldave credit. He’s a very good goaltender and he was on. It was a good game. It really was.”
Portland goaltender Mac Carruth stopped 22 shots.
When it was over, there was talk of a budding rivalry, this being Portland’s first visit since the magical Game 6 — won by the Blazers, 7-6 — in last spring’s second-round playoff series, one the Winterhawks won in Game 7.
“The playoffs have created that and it’s good,” Charron said. “Any time you play a team in the playoffs and go to seven games I think you will build some rivarly.
“Portland is a team we like to play well against because they are going to challenge to be the champions of the conference and we’d like to think we can be a team to fight for that at the same time.”
Johnston feels the same way and he threw some credit to the Kamloops fans, too.
“It seems like the fans here have rallied around the games,” Johnston said. “There was great crowd tonight . . . really enthusiastic. I thought they were into the game and gave them some jump early.
“It’s becoming a nice little rivarly but it’s not a dirty series. It’s a good series. There’s good hockey being played out there.”
The Winterhawks make their final regular-season visit on Feb. 20. After that, well, fans are allowed to dream about a possible meeting in the Western Conference final.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,945. . . . Kamloops was 1-for-3 on the power play; Portland was 0-for-3. . . . Hansen’s goal was his second this season and the sixth of his career. He also scored twice in 2010-11. . . . Smith, Lipon, Rattie and Portland D Derrick Pouliot played in a Super Series game against Russia in Victoria on Thurdsday night. They were up Friday at 5:30 a.m., to begin the trek to Kamloops. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Lipon: Physical and five points; 2. Hansen: Beat on one goal, but best defenceman on the ice; 3. Smith: Fun to watch. . . . NHL teams were well represented. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman and Lightning scout Stacy Roest were there, along with former Kootenay Ice head coach Mark Holick, who is scouting for the Anaheim Ducks. Other teams represented included the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and Pittsburgh Penguins. . . . F Mitch Lipon, JC’s younger brother, had three assists Thursday as his Regina Pat Canadians beat the visiting Swift Current Legionnaires, 5-3. The Pat Canadians (10-2-2-0) moved into first place in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League. Lipon, 16, has 21 points, including 13 assists, and is tied for fifth in the scoring race.
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