By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Right-winger JC Lipon of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers would seem to be back on Pacific time.
Prior to Friday night, Lipon, a fourth-year player from Regina, hadn’t performed particularly well in seven games since returning from a stint with Canada’s national junior team in Ufa, Russia. In fact, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron had suggested after the sixth of those games that he felt Lipon might still be “on Russian time.”
Last night, Lipon definitely was back from wherever he’s been as he helped the Blazers to a 4-1 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders at Interior Savings Centre.
The start of the game was delayed 40 minutes for a ceremony in which former Kamloops defenceman Scott Niedermayer’s number (28) was retired. Both teams were at their respective benches for the entire ceremony.
With the jump back in Lipon’s game, linemates Colin Smith and Tim Bozon also were sharp. And it showed in the first period as the Blazers jumped out to a 3-0 lead with the trio accounting for all three goals and combining for seven points.
The Blazers, coming off a 69-shot effort in a 4-3 overtime victory over the visiting Everett Silvertips on Wednesday, headed in the same direction in this one as they unloaded 20 first-period shots at Raiders goaltender Luke Siemens.
It was the best first period the Blazers have put together in quite some time. They were back to using their speed in a positive manner, forechecking and cycling the puck — in general, making life miserable for opposing defencemen — the way they did during their 14-game winning streak in October.
Smith scored 35 seconds into the game, putting in the rebound of a Bozon shot that appeared to bounce off Siemens’ mask.
At 7:02, Smith carried the puck down the left side and hit a streaking Lipon, who beat his check and then beat Siemens.
At 18:09, Smith was back for more, getting in tight and pounding a loose puck past Siemens.
It was a tough start for the Raiders’ line that features Mark McNeill, who also played for Canada in Ufa, with Mike Winther and Leon Draisaitl, a German freshman. They lost the matchup with the Smith line and were on the ice for all three Kamloops goals.
Give the Raiders credit, though, because they didn’t go away.
Forward Jonas Knutsen was credited with a goal at 8:47 of the second period, a period in which the visitors seized some momentum, when a shot going wide of the Kamloops net changed direction and got past goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
With Kamloops taking four minor penalties in the middle period, the Raiders ended up with a 12-5 edge in shots.
However, Cheveldave, who finished with 28 saves, was back in form and would only be beaten once.
Kamloops also got strong games out of a couple of foot soldiers.
Defenceman Marek Hrbas, who played for his native Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship, played awfully well, especially in his zone. Like Lipon, it could be that his body has recovered from the rigours inflicted by a return trip to Ufa and all the hockey in between.
Kamloops centre Matt Needham also played quite well, especially in a penalty-killing role. While the Blazers did go 0-for-4 on the PP, they didn’t allow the Raiders anything on six chances.
And when right-winger Kale Kessy gave the Blazers a 4-1 lead just 14 seconds into the third period, both teams knew this one was over.
The Blazers will enjoy a rare weekend off before facing the visiting Kelowna Rockets in an even rarer Monday night assignment. The Rockets, who have been racing up the standings, beat the host Seattle Thunderbirds 4-3 in overtime last night and lead the B.C. Division by six points over the Blazers. The Rockets are four points behind the Portland Winterhawks, who lead the overall standings.
The Raiders (28-16-4), who lead the East Division, go into Kelowna tonight with the Rockets having won 20 straight games at Prospera Place.
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 5,464. . . . Kamloops ended with a 41-29 edge in shots. . . . The Raiders hadn’t played in Kamloops since Oct. 8, 2010. In that one, the Blazers built up a 4-1 lead en route to a 4-3 victory. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Lipon: His jump set the tone; 2. Smith: Focus looks to be back; 3. Needham: Contributes so much more than points.
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