By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers lost more than a WHL game on Wednesday night.
The Blazers, who dropped a 3-1 decision to the Tri-City Americans at Interior Savings Centre, were knocked off the B.C. Division’s top rung by the Kelowna Rockets, who dumped the visiting Victoria Royals, 6-1.
The Rockets (30-10-2), who have won seven in a row, lead the Blazers (28-11-4), who had a three-game winning streak snapped, by two points and hold a game in hand.
And now the Spokane Chiefs have won three straight and are only five points behind the third-place Blazers in the Western Conference standings.
As well, Kamloops centre Colin Smith, who was held pointless for a second straight game, no longer is leading the WHL scoring race, having been passed by forward Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks. Petan drew an assist in Portland’s 3-0 victory over the visiting Prince George Cougars, and now holds a 69-68 lead over Smith.
Last night, the Blazers had opportunities to take control as they were presented with six of the game’s first seven power-play opportunities, something of an oddity because the Americans are the league’s least-penalized team.
However, the Blazers, whose power play went in ranked No. 2 in the 22-team league, were able to capitalize only on the first of those. That came at 2:53 of the first period when left-winger Tim Bozon got his 26th goal of the season, tapping in a loose puck that had gotten through Tri-City goaltender Eric Comrie.
The Americans finally got that one back at 11:14 of the second period on their second power play, with defenceman Michal Plutnar getting a shot from the point through traffic and past goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
The second period ended with both goaltenders making marvellous saves, Comrie using his left pad to beat centre Brendan Ranford on a clearcut breakaway and Cheveldave using his right pad to stone centre Marcus Messier.
In the end, it was right-winger Beau McCue, the pride of Missoula, Montana, who broke the Blazers’ hearts, taking a Mitch Topping rebound off the end boards and banging it past Cheveldave just 30 seconds into the third period.
Centre Justin Feser iced it for the visitors with an empty-net goal from the neutral zone with 19.6 seconds left in the final period.
If there was some good news for the Blazers, it was that Cheveldave looked like his old self. The sophomore was making his first start after getting hooked twice and then watching backup Taran Kozun make two winning starts in a row.
Cheveldave made 24 saves, 11 fewer than Comrie, who showed Kamloops fans why he is so highly rated.
The Blazers will play their next five games on the road. They are in Prince George on Friday and Saturday, then will play in Victoria on Tuesday and Wednesday, before going to Kennewick for a Jan. 18 date with the Americans.
Kamloops next plays at home on Jan. 19 against the Royals.
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,227. . . . The Blazers finished 1-for-7 on the PP; the Americans were 1-for-3. . . . The Blazers scratched F JC Lipon and D Marek Hrbas. Lipon, who played for Canada at the World Junior Championship, is at home in Regina. He will join the Blazers in Prince George for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader with the Cougars. Hrbas, who played for the Czech Republic at the WJC, returned to Kamloops on Tuesday night, but was given the night off. . . . The Blazers also were missing associate coach Dave Hunchak, who has returned to Saskatchewan on a personal matter. Goaltending coach Dan De Palma was behind the Blazers’ bench in Hunchak’s spot. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Comrie: The real deal; 2. D Zach Yuen, Tri-City: Always plays well here; 3. Feser: Heart-and-soul guy. . . .
F Devin Oakes, 17, made his WHL debut with the Blazers. Oakes, who has 21 points in 30 games with the junior B Kamloops Storm, was in camp with the Blazers but was limited due to offseason shoulder surgery. Oakes, 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, is from Prince Rupert. . . . F Matthew Gelinas, who signed Tuesday with the Americans, also made his WHL debut. The son of former NHLer Martin Gelinas, now an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames, took a mostly regular shift and saw some PP time. He is to return to the midget AAA Calgary Royals after playing Friday in Kelowna.
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