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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blazers power past Rockets

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor

That missing persons’ bulletin? You know, the one for the Kamloops Blazers’ power play? Forget about it.
Thanks to their power play, the Blazers pulled a victory out of the fire Monday night, erasing a 5-3 third-period deficit and beating the Kelowna Rockets 6-5 in overtime at Interior Savings Centre.
Still, the Rockets now have points in 16 straight games (14-0-2). But the victory did lift the Blazers (33-14-5) to within seven points of the Rockets (37-10-4), who lead the B.C. Division. Kamloops also has won three in a row and four of five.
The Blazers got into overtime for a WHL-leading 16th time — this was Kelowna’s fifth appearance — and now are 6-2 when games are decided in extra time. They are 5-3 in shootouts.
For the longest time, though, this one didn’t look as though it would get there.
The Rockets, playing their fourth game in five nights, were definitely the better team through 40 minutes and were full value for a 4-2 lead.
But the Blazers got a goal from right-winger JC Lipon just 45 seconds into the third period and, with fatigue taking away the visitor’s legs, the home boys took over.
However, the Rockets still had a 5-3 lead at 9:01 of the third period after defenceman Damon Severson got a shot through traffic and in behind goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
But that goal didn’t slow down the Blazers.
“Momentum,” Kamloops forward Colin Smith said. “Even before the goals started going in, I thought we had a good set of shifts from everybody. . . . We were able to get it in their zone and play our game. That gets everyone excited and makes you want to get out there and do your thing.”
Blazers head coach Guy Charron said his bench, which didn’t have much life through 40 minutes, now was breathing fire.
“When our bench is alive,” he said, “it seems that when the next group goes out they’re energized.”
It also didn’t hurt that the Rockets skated into some penalty trouble.
“Bad penalties,” Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said. “We took two stupid ones at the end of the third period.”
With Carter Rigby off for slashing in the offensive zone, left-winger Brendan Ranford scored off a backdoor play at 12:43 to cut the deficit to 5-4.
Still, time was in the Rockets’ favour as the game wore on, until Ryan Olsen was penalized for holding — he took down Dylan Willick — at 19:21.
The Blazers called time out and put Cheveldave on the bench for the extra attacker. The Rockets then won the faceoff that was to the right of goaltender Jordon Cooke, but weren’t able to maintain possession. Smith was credited with the equalizer when his centring pass went in off a Kelowna player. There were 21.4 ticks left on the clock.
“I’m pretty sure it was going on (Ranford’s) tape,” said Smith. “The d-man dove to break it up and it went in off his stick. I was trying to go backdoor with (Ranford).”
Each team had at least one glorious opportunity in extra time, Kelowna’s Zach Franko hitting iron in behind Cheveldave and Cooke standing his ground on a Marek Hrbas shot from the slot.
And then the Kamloops power play, which had gone 0-for-16 in its previous two games, struck again, this time with Dylen McKinlay off for holding Tim Bozon in the neutral zone.
The game ended with 15 seconds left, as Chase Souto redirected a Ranford shot and Cooke had no opportunity to save it.
While the Blazers savoured the victory, Charron spent at least some time wondering about the first two periods.
“We were stick-checking,” he said. “They’re a good team. They play physical because they finish their checks, not because they try to intimidate you. These guys play an honest game.”
Smith agreed.
“They came out hard,” he said. “They’ve been having a good run here the last couple of weeks. They’ve been playing their game and we wanted to come out and play ours.”
Bozon and Cole Ully also scored for Kamloops, while Myles Bell, with two, Olsen and Rigby had Kelowna’s other goals.
Cheveldave came up with 26 saves, while Cooke, who had a 20-game winning streak end, turned aside 40.
This was the Rockets’ first visit to Kamloops since Opening Night, Sept. 21, when the Blazers won 6-5 in overtime on Bozon’s third goal of the game. The Rockets will play here three more times before the regular season draws to a close, while the Blazers still have to make two trips to Kelowna.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,762. . . . The Blazers finished 3-for-6 on the power play; the Rockets were 1-for-3. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Severson: Best player on the ice; 2. Smith: Provided spark; 3. Ranford: Smooth three points. . . . The Blazers are scheduled to meet the Winterhawks in Portland on Wednesday and then return home to face the Spokane Chiefs on Friday. Kamloops then travels to Everett for a Saturday night engagement with the Silvertips.


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