Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blazers take care of Thunderbirds

Defenceman Connor Clouston (25) of the Kamloops Blazers battles for a loose
puck with Seattle Thunderbirds defender Jesse Forsberg on Friday night.

(Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor

Goaltending controversy? What goaltending controversy?
With Taran Kozun, Kamloops’ mostly backup goaltender, making his second straight start, the first time he’s done that this season, the Blazers dumped the Seattle Thunderbirds 6-1 at Interior Savings Centre on Friday night.
“It’s always nice to have . . . two goalies,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “We know what Cole (Cheveldave) can do. He is the No. 1 goalie . . . probably.”
Cheveldave, the team’s sophomore starter, was hooked from WHL games Dec. 27 (a 7-3 loss to the Rockets in Kelowna) and Dec. 29 (a 9-5 victory over the visiting Vancouver Giants as his save percentage slipped to .899. He has been beaten 22 times over his last four appearances.
Kozun, meanwhile, has allowed five goals on 62 shots over 173:42 in his last four appearances.
“I’m very happy,” Kozun, an 18-year-old freshman from Nipawin, Sask., said after last night’s 22-save performance. “The team is playing well in front of me. I’m just trying to give them a chance to won.”
This actually was the fourth straight game in which Kozun has appeared.
Asked when he last played in four straight games, Kozun replied: “Never.”
Then, with a laugh, he added: “I got three one week.”
That was last season when he got into 16 games with the SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks. Last night, Kozun made his 15th appearance of this season.
“I thought I played well in Vancouver,” Kozun said, in reference to Wednesday’s 4-2 victory, “and I had a good game here. I’m  happy with it.”
The Blazers (27-10-4) are happy, too. But Cheveldave is expected to start Wednesday against the Tri-City Americans.
“It’s great that Taran is playing well,” Charron said, “but we need our No. 1 to get back on track.
“We know (Kozun) is a good goalie. But unless he plays it’s difficult to get confidence. Hopefully, these games help his confidence.”
More games like this one definitely will help the team’s confidence.
The Blazers, who have who have won three in a row, have relied heavily on centre Colin Smith, the WHL’s leading scorer, and his linemates this season. In this one, however, the Smith line was blanked — left-winger Tim Bozon picked up one assist on a power play — while a line with Brendan Ranford between Cole Ully and newly acquired Kale Kessy took over.
Ranford finished with four assists, while Ully had a goal and two assists, and Kessy, who was acquired from Vancouver after Wednesday’s game, scored twice.
“That’s OK. I don’t mind,” Charron said of Smith’s line being blanked but the team still scoring six times. “That’s secondary scoring and that’s what we’re looking for.”
And even at that the best player on the ice was Kamloops centre Matt Needham, who continues to excel in a penalty-killing and shutdown role, now alongside Dylan Willick and Joe Kornelsen.
“It’s nice that Matt Needham, who I thought was snakebit for a while, scores a goal,” Charron said.
Needham didn’t just score a goal; he scored THE goal of the game. He went one-on-one with defenceman Shea Theodore, who is projected as a potential first-round NHL draft pick, giving him the old whoop-de-do and then beating goaltender Danny Mumaugh through the legs for his sixth goal this season.
“Shea’s a buddy of mine,” Needham said. “We’ll have a couple of laughs about that one.”
The Blazers also got goals from Kornelsen and defenceman Josh Connolly, who got his first WHL goal in his 25th game this season.
Forward Justin Hickman scored for Seattle, beating Kozun at 14:38 of the first period when the Thunderbirds actually had a lot of the play.
“We just didn’t have the puck,” Needham said. “We weren’t getting it to spots we wanted it. They had a lot more control than we did.”
Charron added: “We didn’t have possession. We had it and we gave it up. There were options there but we weren’t making those passes.”
Once the Blazers ironed out those problems, they won going away.
Mumaugh, a 16-year-old from Centennial, Colo., stopped 30 shots in his first WHL start. He has been playing for head coach David Wilkie, a former Blazers defenceman, with the Omaha AAA U16 team in the North American Prospects League.
The Thunderbirds (16-20-3), who have lost nine in a row, are at home to the Spokane Chiefs tonight. Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk, obviously not happy, kept his players in their dressing room for quite a while after last night’s game.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 5,114. . . . The Blazers remain atop the B.C. Division, two points ahead of the Kelowna Rockets, who beat the Cougars 4-2 in Prince George. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Needham: Hits, blocked shots and a nifty goal; 2. Ranford: Playmaker deluxe; 3. Kessy: As advertised — big, strong and with some touch. . . . These teams won’t meet again this regular season. The Blazers won the season series, 3-1. . . . F Nick Chyzowski, 15, played in his first game with the Blazers. He got three shifts, including two in the third period. . . . The Blazers returned F Mitch Lipon, 16, to the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians yesterday. . . . D Kevin Davis, 15, of Kamloops made his WHL debut with Everett as the Silvertips beat the visiting Spokane Chiefs, 3-2, last night. Davis was the 11th overall selection in the 2012 bantam draft.

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