Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blazers take 2-0 lead to the Island

Centre Colin Smith and defenceman Joel Edmundson of the Kamloops
Blazers celebrate the latter's second goal in the first period of a WHL
playoff game on Saturday night.
Daily News Sports Editor

Joel Edmundson played one season in the Moose Jaw Civic Centre — aka the Crushed Can.
So the Kamloops Blazers defenceman is quick to admit that he isn’t the least bit concerned about playing in Victoria’s Bear Mountain Arena.
“No, I’m excited,” a grinning Edmundson said late  Saturday night, after scoring twice as the Blazers dumped the Victoria Royals 6-4 in a WHL playoff game at Interior Savings Centre. “I think most of the guys are excited. There’ll be a great atmosphere there.”
The Blazers hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series, with hostilities set to resume at Bear Mountain on Tuesday and Thursday nights. A fifth game, if needed, would be played at ISC on Saturday.
The Royals normally play in 7,006-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, but it is being prepped for the Ford world men’s curling championship that opens Saturday. Thus, the Royals are having to play first-round games at Bear Mountain, a 2,781-seat facility that opened in February 2004.
Bear Mountain’s ice surface is the same as the ISC — 85 feet by 200 feet — but it will seem more compact because of the smaller venue with fans situated close to the playing surface.
The beloved Crushed Can, which gave way to Mosaic Place prior to 2011-12, was said to have a playing surface that was 85x194, but it appeared smaller than that, perhaps because of the concave roof that seemed to hang 10 feet above the ice.
“That was my favourite rink,” Edmundson said. “The smaller ice . . . fans right on top of you. I love it . . . love it.”
Edmundson, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder who has signed a three-year deal with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, also is expecting another unfriendly reception, like the one he got Jan. 16, the last time the Blazers were in Victoria.
“I was getting booed every time I touched the puck so I’m pretty used to it,” he said, adding that the Royals’ fans weren’t happy about “a couple of big, dirty hits.”
On Saturday, Victoria’s fans wouldn’t have been at all happy about his two goals, which gave the Blazers a 2-0 first-period lead and got them started to what was a dominant 40-minute performance.
In the second period, the Blazers got two goals from winger Tim Bozon, who turned 19 on Sunday, and a singleton from centre Brendan Ranford. Forward Jamie Crooks scored for the Royals on a late power play, by which point the visitors trailed 5-1 and had been soundly outplayed.
But the Royals scored three times in the third period, cutting the deficit to 5-4 with 1:44 left on the clock and making things a lot dicier for the home team than it needed to be.
“When we play this team 5-on-5 we’re a dominant team,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “When we allow this team to get on the power play, we give them life. The two penalties we took in the third period weren’t necessary.”
Kamloops defenceman Tyler Hansen took an interference penalty at 4:07 and, while the Royals didn’t score with him off, they gained some momentum and centre Tyler Soy did at 7:44.
And then, at 14:50, Blazers winger Chase Souto cut through the top of the Victoria crease, stuck out his left leg and dumped goaltender Patrik Polivka. Forward Austin Carroll scored on the subsequent power play and now it was 5-3.
“They are a dominant team when they go on the power play,” Charron reiterated, “and we have to avoid those situations.”
The Royals followed that with the game’s most dominant shift, raising havoc in the Kamloops zone until a shot bounced off forward Brandon Magee and past goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
Just like that it was 5-4 and now there was real cause for concern.
But the Royals’ balloon was quickly deflated as, with Polivka on the bench for the extra attacker, Kamloops captain Dylan Willick was able to push the puck up ice and score into the empty net just 36 seconds after Magee’s goal.
“It was their power play that got them momentum,” Willick said. “We can clean up the penalty kill but it all starts by being disciplined.”
Willick, like Edmundson, has no concerns about going into Bear Mountain. As Willick pointed out, the Blazers travel well — they were 20-13-3 on the road this season.
“You know it’s going to be a loud rink; they probably are going to sell it out since it’s a smaller one,” Willick said. “But it’s a playoff atmosphere, like our building — it was loud tonight. We just have to go in there and focus on the game.”
Willick added that playing away from home “has been big ever since Guy has been here. He preaches road games as much as home games. We’ve turned that page in the last couple of years and we’re fine with it.”
The Royals no doubt will try to feed off their two third-period efforts. In Friday’s 3-2 setback, they were the better team but weren’t able to solve Cheveldave. On Saturday, they scored three times and got back into the game, albeit briefly.
“We have to play a consistent 60-minute effort,” said Victoria defenceman Joe Hicketts, who is from Kamloops. “We saw in both third periods in the last two games that we can play with them and beat them. Playing like that from the start of the game into the second period . . . that’s been a downfall all season, it seems.”
Indeed, the Royals have been outscored 112-76 in second periods during the regular season and playoffs.
Perhaps the Royals will be able to turn that around at Bear Mountain, a facility they are somewhat familiar with, having spent a week there in September when Cirque de Soleil was in the big building.
“It’s a small rink,” Hicketts said. “It’s going to be loud . . . close quarters. It’s a smaller building and we’re hoping it’s packed, standing room only.”
So is Edmundson.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,505. . . . Polivka finished with 23 stops, while Cheveldave made 20 saves. . . . Neither team made any lineup changes for Game 2, meaning D Tyler Stahl, the Victoria captain, didn’t play. For the second night in a row, he took part in the warmup and then took off his gear. He has missed 10 games since last playing on March 2 . . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Edmundson: Two key goals, solid defensively; 2. Lipon: Four helpers and plus-3; 3. D Marek  Hrbas, Kamloops: A solid night. . . . The Royals spent Saturday night in Kamloops and were to leave Sunday, in time to catch the 3 p.m. ferry.

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