Friday, March 29, 2013
By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
At this time of the season, with rest at a premium, all WHL teams have bumps and bruises.
Some have more than others, and some, like the Kelowna Rockets, have more serious injuries than others.
Which is why it is so important to finish off a team when given the chance.
The Kamloops Blazers are faced with the opportunity to do just that tonight at Interior Savings Centre. The Blazers hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series with t he Victoria Royals. A Kamloops victory ends it; a loss sends the series back to Victoria for Game 6 on Monday.
Dylan Willick, the captain of the Kamloops Blazers, said Friday afternoon that he and his teammates understand what’s at stake.
“It’s huge,” Willick said after the Blazers had traveled home from Victoria. “Any time we can take a travel day out of our schedule and take time to rest up, ice and regroup as a team . . . obviously, it’s a big deal.
“It will boost morale with the team and . . . home ice is a great place to win a series, too. It’s been quite some time since that happened so we’d like to get it done.”
Actually, the Blazers haven’t won a playoff series at home since April 11, 1996, when they beat the Tri-City Americans 5-1 before 5,622 fans in Game 5 of a second-round series.
Willick, of course, scored the overtime goal that gave the Blazers a 5-4 victory in Victoria on Thursday night. It was, he said, the first OT goal of his WHL career.
“Not even in the regular season,” he said, with a laugh.
The winner came off a play that began with linemates Matt Needham and Cole Ully “working in a corner.”
“I found some quiet ice in the high slot,” said Willick, who took a pass from Needham and put the puck through traffic and past goaltender Patrik Polivka. “I found an empty hole and put it in. There was nice lane to shoot through.”
After Polivka stopped 39 shots as the Royals won Game 3, 2-1, the Blazers talked about getting more traffic to his area.
“There have been a lot of rebounds this whole series that we haven’t been jumping on as much as we’d want to,” Willick said. “Unfortunately, there was a time here and there where we bumped into Polivka a bit more than the rules allow.”
Kamloops defenceman Joel Edmundson was penalized for goaltender interference at 13:04 of the second period.
“We got an interference call the one time,” Willick said, “but if that’s the price you pay for trying to get to the net and get the loose pucks, so be it.”
Of course, the Blazers’ aggressiveness around Polivka didn’t sit well with Victoria head coach Dave Lowry.
“It is a rule that is supposed to be called,” Lowry told Marlon Martens, the team’s radio voice. “It is something that we’ve asked to be addressed. If our goalie is going to continue to get bumped, we’ll take a page out their book and start bumping goalies, simple.
“If all they’re going to do is say it’s no goal because you touch a goalie — incidental contact — maybe we’ll start initiating.”
All of which, of course, is part of the posturing, the give-and-take, of playoff hockey. Or is it? We’ll find out tonight.
The Royals have scored 12 goals in the four games, with five of those coming via the power play. That efficiency — five goals on 19 opportunities — is enough to warn the Blazers off taking penalties.
“Discipline is a huge part of it,” Willick said. “Their power play has been clicking so we really don’t want to give them any opportunities like that.”
Which isn’t to say the threat of taking penalties will keep the Blazers from going to the Victoria net.
“At the end of the day,” Willick said, “we have a good chance of scoring goals if we just go to the net and be hard on our sticks and what not. . . . Do it clean, but get to the net.”
With left-winger Tim Bozon injured and missing Game 4 — he may be a game-time decision tonight — it meant an even shorter bench for the Blazers. And that’s one more reason to cut down on penalties.
“We don’t need all that special-team ice time,” Willick explained. “It tires guys out so discipline becomes even more of a factor. It’s something we’ve been preaching all year and we’d like it cleaned up even more now in the playoffs.”
As for the intensity level, Willick said: “It’s playoff hockey. There’s going to be bumps and bruises and there’s going to be some penalties here and there. . . . There have been a few scrums but guys aren’t doing anything stupid.”
There was a big scrum at the end of Game 3 and two players — Bozon and Victoria forward Brandon Magee — both missed Game 4.
“That’s a pretty high price to pay for both teams,” Willick said. “We’d rather not have to lose anybody. We just want to play hard in between whistles.”
The Rockets, meanwhile, are at home to the Seattle Thunderbirds tonight, with the visitors holding a 3-1 edge.
On Friday, the Rockets announced that defenceman MacKenzie Johnston (shoulder) and F Rourke Chartier (undisclosed) will be out for six to eight weeks. Chartier was injured in Game 3 on Tuesday, while Johnston was hurt in Game 4 on Wednesday. Seattle forward Connor Honey has been suspended — the length is to be determined — for a check from behind on Johnston.
Those two join forwards Carter Rigby, Colton Sissons and defenceman Mitchell Wheaton on Kelowna’s long-term injury list. As well, veteran forward J.T. Burnett has played in only three games since Feb. 15 as he battles an undisclosed illness.
Should the Blazers and Seattle win tonight — and should the Spokane Chiefs eliminate the host Tri-City Americans — the second round would feature the Blazers and Spokane, with Game 1 likely to be played in Kamloops on Friday.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. . . . If a seventh game is needed, it will be played at ISC on Wednesday. . . . Polivka goes into the game with a 3.28 GAA and .908 save percentage. . . . Kamloops starter Cole Cheveldave is 2.81 and .880.
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