By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Brendan Ranford has grown from a boy into a man during his five seasons with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.
But he still gets excited when his mother, Paula, is in the stands to watch him play.
She was inside Interior Savings Centre on Friday night as her son scored one goal and set up two others in leading the Blazers to a coolly efficient 4-2 WHL victory over the Kelowna Rockets.
The victory lifted the Blazers (39-15-5) to within five points of the B.C. Division-leading Rockets (42-14-4). The Blazers have 13 games remaining in the regular season; the Rockets have a dozen left to play.
The teams will meet again tonight, this time in Kelowna.
“It was a good game,” said Ranford, a 20-year-old from Edmonton, “and it’s always nice to have your mom in the stands.”
Ranford’s mother is from Edmonton. He also had a grandmother, from Red Deer, and an aunt, from Stettler, Alta., in the house to support him.
“They don’t come out as much as they did when I was 16,” he said, “but it’s nice to see them.”
The women will have left the arena with big smiles on their faces, because their boy — ahh, he’s likely still their baby! — was the best player on the ice.
Ranford, who now has 68 points in 57 games, set up the game’s first goal, scored his club’s third goal — his 16th of the season — and drew an assist on its fourth one.
And it was his goal, coming on a power play 34 seconds into the second period, that gave the Blazers control.
On the game’s first goal, centre Dylan Willick had charged to the Kelowna net and redirected a Ranford pass off the wall behind goaltender Jordon Cooke.
Ranford scored on a similar play, getting to the Kelowna net and shovelling a Colin Smith pass from the wall behind Cooke.
“It’s all about the speed, keep the puck moving and find the open guy,” Ranford said of playing with the man advantage. “It is a power play so there always is going to be one guy open.
“That’s what we had at the start of the season. We had a good set power play, and we did well against teams when we had a good power play.”
Last night, the Blazers scored twice on six opportunities, and that was enough for the victory.
“I thought that kind of set the tone a little bit for the game,” Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said of his side’s propensity for taking early penalties. “We had four in the first period. You’re playing too few guys too many minutes and too many guys are sitting on the bench for too long.”
The game was 1-1 when Kelowna defenceman Colton Heffley was called for interference. Left-winger Tim Bozon scored off the rush 54 seconds later to give the Blazers a 2-1 lead.
Then, at 18:23, Jesse Lees, another Kelowna defenceman, took minors for checking from behind and unsportsmanlike conduct. Ranford scored on the second of those penalties, to give the home boys a 3-1 edge.
Huska said he would have liked to have gotten into the second period with a 1-1 tie.
“Any time you’re leaving a period on the road even, I think you’re doing something well,” he stated. “I thought we were OK 5-on-5 . . . the difference in the game was the two power-play goals they scored.
“Their power play did the job again tonight . . . it’s caused us some problems up here.”
The last time the Rockets were here, on Jan. 28, the visitors held a 5-3 lead midway through the third period, but then gave up three power-play goals and lost 6-5 in overtime.
On that night, Ranford was in on each of the last three goals, scoring the first one and setting up the last two.
“I like playing against the big teams,” he said. “I like to go up against Portland and Kelowna.”
He will, of course, get a another chance to play the Rockets tonight, and then the Portland Winterhawks are at the ISC on Wednesday night.
As for tonight in the Little Apple, Ranford said: “I don’t think it’ll be as wide open for us. It’s a great place to play and a tough place to play. They don’t lose too often there. We just have to go in with the same work ethic . . . work hard.”
Kamloops head coach Guy Charron was especially impressed with Ranford’s game.
“He’s a very dedicated athlete this season,” said Charron, noting that Ranford has battled weight issues in past seasons. “He works hard and wants to do everything he can to help the hockey team as 20-year-olds want to do. . . . He’s a very dominant guy and the energy he brings and the effort . . . there’s not much more I can say about him.”
Charron said his club had three goals going into the game — not to be outworked, win the special teams battle and be disciplined.
The Blazers won all three of those areas and then shut down the Rockets in the third period, limiting them to five shots.
“You’re going to be in situations where you may take a lead and if you can play a style of play that frustrates the other team, more power to you,” Charron said.
“We played very well. I thought it was a real good effort from everyone and a good win.”
Defenceman Marek Hrbas also scored for the Blazers, while the Rockets got goals from forwards Dylen McKinlay, his 20th, and Henrik Nyberg, who got his first goal in 13 games.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave stopped 26 shots, while Cooke turned aside 36.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 5,127. . . . Kamloops D Sam Grist served a one-game WHL suspension for an accumulation of checking-from-behind penalties. WHL rules call for a one-game suspension for a fourth such penalty. Grist will be back in the lineup tonight. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Ranford: His puck; 2. Hrbas: Another terrific outing; 3. Smith: Lots of jump again. . . . Former Blazers F Jordan DePape received a resounding standing ovation as he took part in the ceremonial faceoff. DePape, who now is with the Red Deer Rebels, was doing some promotional work here for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He is recovering from shoulder surgery and hopes to play again in mid-March.
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