By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
In the WHL these days, the Portland Winterhawks are the measuring stick.
When you want to know how good your team is, you stack it up against the Winterhawks, the top-ranked team in all of the CHL, and away you go.
The Kamloops Blazers, who had been on a seven-game winning streak, did exactly that at Interior Savings Centre on Wednesday night and came up a bit short of the big dogs, the opportunistic Winterhawks scoring a 3-0 victory despite being outshot 27-24.
With the victory, the Winterhawks (49-9-3) became the WHL’s first 100-point team this season. With 11 games to play, they now lead the overall standings by 10 points (101-91) over the Edmonton Oil Kings, who lost 3-2 to the visiting Regina Pats last night.
Portland also tied a franchise record with its 24th road victory of the season. The Winterhawks, 24-3-2 away from home, equalled the mark held by the 1980-81 and 2010-11 squads.
The Winterhawks will spend the weekend in Prince George where they meet the Cougars on Friday and Saturday.
A victory would have lifted the Blazers to within one point of the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets (42-15-4), who will play the Royals in Victoria on Friday and Saturday nights. The Blazers will spend Friday in Vancouver playing the Giants and then will mosey on down to Spokane for a Saturday night date with the Chiefs.
In their previous three visits to Kamloops, the Winterhawks had given up 18 goals in losing all three games. Last night, it was evident that they weren’t interesting in getting in a run-and-gun show with the Blazers.
The Winterhawks were especially tight in their zone, with defencemen Seth Jones, Troy Rutkowski and Tyler Wotherspoon at the top of their games.
Offensively, the Winterhawks took control in the second period when their top two snipers — Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan — each beat goaltender Cole Cheveldave to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Leipsic’s goal really stung, coming as it did so early (1:56) into the second period. Leipsic, a 5-foot-9 pain who leads the WHL with 105 points, came out the penalty box, skated down the right wing and eventually beat Cheveldave along the ice and through the legs. That was his WHL-leading 42nd goal.
Not to be outdone, Petan, who plays on a line with Leipsic and Ty Rattie, scored at 16:09, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play for his 42nd score as the Winterhawks took advantage of a 4-on-2 break.
And it was those kinds of breakdowns that haunted the Blazers all game long.
The Winterhawks had drawn first blood at 8:59 of the first period, thanks to some good puck possession by forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand, Taylor Leier and Chase DeLeo. Their cycling resulted in a pass to Rutkowski, who beat Cheveldave with a low shot to the stick side, going off the post and into the mesh for his 18th goal this season.
It’s not that the Winterhawks were dynamite in this one — they weren’t. But they were awfully good, especially with their defensive structure. Their puck support was better than that of the Blazers, and the visitors applied enough pressure in Kamloops’ defensive zone that the home side’s skaters often gave pucks away as they approached the neutral zone. And the Winterhawks were tight defensively, allowing the Blazers very little in the way of sustained pressure on offence.
Portland goaltender Mac Carruth finished with 27 saves, few of the difficult variety, as he put up his WHL-leading seventh shutout.
Even at that, the Blazers had an opportunity to get back into it early in the third period when they were presented with a 58-second two-man advantage. But the home boys were guilty of some errant shooting, a lot of their shots going wide and bouncing harmlessly away out the other side. That, too, was something that hampered their game on a regular basis on this night.
They were, it could be said, a gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,527. . . . The Blazers hadn’t been blanked at home since losing 1-0 to G Drew Owsley and the Prince George Cougars on Sept. 24, 2011. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Leipsic: An ultra-effective pest; 2. Rutkowski: Tower of strength; 3. Carruth: Stayed in the moment. . . . R.J. Broadhead and Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet were interested observers. They will air the Blazers’ game from Vancouver on Friday. . . . The Blazers are next at home Wednesday against the Giants. . . . Prior to the game, the crowd responded with a nice standing ovation as Corryn Brown’s Canadian junior championship rink was introduced.
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