Some notes and observations after the Kamloops Blazers beat the visiting Portland Winterhawks 6-4 on Friday night:
1. It’s great when two head coaches will allow their top lines to go head-to-head for most of a game. Sure, the Blazers’ trio of, left to right, Tim Bozon, Colin Smith and JC Lipon out-pointed Ty Rattie, Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan 14-5, but Rattie still had enough chances to have won the game. Turn around a couple of missed open sides and a couple of Cole Cheveldave stops and the outcome may have been different, but that’s why they play the game.
2. It’s interesting how WHL teams continue to try to go high on Cheveldave. Yes, he’s only 5-foot-10. And, yes, he’s on his knees a lot. But he’s square to the shooters and he’s quick to get back to this feet. He also has a real ability to see pucks through traffic. Over last season and this, he is 47-15-5 with a 2.54 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Yes, all he does is top pucks.
3. The Blazers got a huge night out of D Tyler Hansen, a 19-year-old who just gets better and better. On this night, he also had a goal and an assist, but that’s not his game. He’s a shutdown guy and, other than getting beat by Leipsic on a toe-drag at the top of the Kamloops crease on Portland's second goal, he was the best defenceman on the ice. In this game, that was saying a lot.
4. Kamloops D Sam Grist had an interesting night. He was pointless and finished plus-5. But to show you how hockey is a game of inches, he got caught pinching twice in the first period. That resulted in two Portland odd-man breaks — a 3-on-1 and a 2-on-1. Neither one resulted in even a shot on goal which, for Portland, may have been an omen.
5. The Blazers went into the game having lost five of the six games that followed a 14-game winning streak. They had played 17 games in 12 difference cities in 33 days. After Friday’s game, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said what a lot of people in these parts have been thinking: “We know the schedule wasn’t favouring us. (We had) a lot of travelling and injuries which is caused basically because of the schedule — too many games in too few nights.”
6. Leipsic was the best of the Winterhawks. He had a goal and two assists in what was his seventh straight multi-point game. He also ran his point streak to nine games. At 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, the Winnipeger plays a lot bigger than his size, but he no longer is trying to play even bigger than that. “He’s modified his game since he had the concussion problems,” Mike Johnston, Portland’s GM and head coach, said after the game. “We talked to him a little bit about modifying his game, not engaging in all the physical hits that he tries to do. Maybe just change a little bit. Since that time he’s been good. He’s been really, really good this season. He plays with energy. Plays hard. He’s got a lot more skill than people give him credit for.” . . . He also has 27 points in 18 games. And he was around the puck a whole lot on Friday night.
7. Even though they lost the game, Johnston and Travis Green, the Winterhawks’ assistant GM/assistant coach, were smiling. “That was a good game between two good teams,” Green said. . . . Johnston, whose club had beaten the Blazers 3-1 in Portland on Sunday, added that, as a coach, this is what he lives for. “I really love it. The last two games have been great,” he said. “They’ve got an excellent team. They’re well prepared. It’s becoming a nice little rivalry. But it’s not a dirty series . . . it’s a good series. There’s good hockey being played out there and that’s why fans come out. Sure, you want to see hits and different things happen, but you want to see good hockey.”
8. More from Johnston: “It was a good game. If you’re looking for a game that was competitive and entertaining, not a lot of crap goes on, there was nothing after the whistle. After the whistle, there’s none of that stuff. Our team is good like that this year. We don’t get involved in a lot of crap after the whistle . . . and they’re the same. They’re very focused on playing the game. . . . It was fast . . . I couldn’t believe how fast the game went by.”
9. The game took two hours and 15 minutes to play.
10. When the teams met last Sunday in Portland, attendance in Veterans Memorial Coliseum was 6,697. That one crowd, more than anything else, shows that the Winterhawks really are relevant on the Portland sporting scene again. “When I went out for the game I was thinking there might be 2,000 fans there,” a smiling Johnston admitted.
11. These teams will meet twice more during this regular season. The Blazers are scheduled to visit Portland on Jan. 30. The Winterhawks will be in Kamloops on Feb. 20.
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