Monday, January 21, 2013

Daily News Sports Editor

The hold that the Kamloops Blazers once held over the Victoria Royals has disappeared like snowflakes landing on an outstretched hand.
Poof . . . gone!
Last season, including playoffs, the Blazers won 11 of 12 games from the Royals, who were in their first season in B.C.’s capital after relocating from Chilliwack.
On Saturday night, however, the Royals took down the Blazers 5-4 in a chippy affair at Interior Savings Centre, giving Victoria its third victory over Kamloops in five nights.
The Royals now lead the season series 4-3-0, although from a Blazers’ perspective, it’s 3-2-2, what with Kamloops having suffered two shootout losses.
Victoria forward Brandon Magee, whose two third-period power-play goals erased a 4-3 Kamloops lead on Saturday, admitted the Blazers were in the Royals’ heads last season.
“A little bit . . . you know,” Magee, an 18-year-old from Edmonton, said. “They had come into our barn and beat us almost every time.”
Indeed, the Blazers won five of six games in Victoria last season, but the Royals have won three of four this go-round.
“We were able to step up at home,” Magee added, referring to home-ice victories on Tuesday and Wednesday. “The boys were really emotionally attached to those games and wanted to win badly.”
These two teams may get to know each other in the playoffs, too. The Blazers (30-14-5) are third in the Western Conference, six points behind the Kelowna Rockets, who are 11-0-1 of late. The Royals (25-17-3) are sixth and on their first five-game winning streak since fleeing Chilliwack.
Were the playoffs to begin today, Kamloops and Victoria would be first-round combatants.
“Mentally, our team this season has been battling really hard,” Magee said. “Now we’ve beaten them a couple of times, it’s definitely something that we now know we can play with these guys. That’s huge.”
While Magee ran his goal total to 19 and linemate Alex Gogolev added a goal and three assists, it was Victoria defenceman Tyler Stahl who had the biggest impact on this game.
“For sure . . . for sure,” Kamoops head coach Guy Charron said.
The Royals are the WHL’s most-penalized team and Stahl, the 20-year-old captain from Drumheller, is the main antagonist.
His assignment in this three-game set obviously was to get in the kitchen of centre Colin Smith, the Blazers’ leading scorer.
Mission accomplished!
With the score 1-1 at 16:30 of the first period, Stahl saw an opportunity to crush a vulnerable Smith’s head against the boards like a grape and tried to do just that with his left elbow.
Neither of the two referees — Adam Byblow, who was standing right there, or Mark Pearce — chose to make a call as a helmetless Smith headed for the Kamloops bench, fortunate to have escaped injury.
Not being independently wealthy, Charron chose not to comment on the incident, other than to offer: “I’m shocked that none of the referees saw it. No one saw it. I’m shocked.”
From that point on, Stahl fiddled and the Blazers burned, surrending 10 power-play opportunities in the process.  Each of the Royals’ last three goals came via the power play.
Smith, clearly out of sorts, took two minor penalties in the third period and was serving a high-sticking sentence when the winning goal was scored.
“Colin was looking more to hit people than take the puck and take charge and do the things he’s capable of doing,” Charron said.
Smith didn’t get any help from his linemates either. Brendan Ranford, skating on the left side in place of the flu-ravaged Tim Bozon, was ineffective. Right-winger JC Lipon has struggled since playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
“I’d go beyond struggling,” Charron said. “I think he’s on Russian time right now.”
The Blazers goaltending also has been struggling. With two-year starter Cole Cheveldave looking for his game, freshman Taran Kozun made his third straight start, the first time that has happened.
But he fanned on Victoria’s first shot — Brandon Fushimi beat him just nine seconds after Matt Needham had given the home boys the lead — and was gone three minutes into the third period, having allowed four goals on 15 shots.
“The first goal was a bad goal,” Charron said. “Sometimes you need support from your goaltender and we didn’t get it from Taran.”
Cheveldave came on and gave up the winner, Magee scoring on a low shot through traffic.
Steven Hodges had Victoria’s other goal, his fifth in the three-game series.
The Blazers wasted a three-goal effort from centre Matt Needham, who has found some chemistry with linemates Cole Ully and Chase Souto. Defenceman Marek Hrbas had the Blazers’ other goal.
“Their best players took part in the scoring,” Charron stated. “Our best players didn’t. Three goals from Needham’s line . . . that’s secondary scoring and we should be able to win hockey games (with that).”
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,627. . . . Needham’s hat trick was his first in 123 career games. . . . Gogolev has 19 points, 16 of them assists, in nine January games. He had 10 points in the three victories over the Blazers. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Stahl: More impact on outcome than anyone; 2. Gogolev: Magic man; 3. Needham: Great work ethic. . . . The Blazers are at home to the Everett Silvertips on Wednesday.
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