By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Cole Linaker looked like Ralphie after he found the Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story.
And, really, who could blame him?
Linaker, who will turn 18 on Monday, broke a 2-2 third-period tie with his second WHL goal on Friday night and that gave the Kelowna Rockets a 3-2 victory over the Kamloops Blazers at Interior Savings Centre.
“I was just standing in front and I saw it pop out,” Linaker said. “I kind of grabbed it, turned and fired it . . . at first I didn’t even know it went in.”
As Linaker realized he had deposited a rebound behind Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave, at 9:15 of the third period, the look on his face went from shock to surprise to joy.
“I haven’t had too many this season,” the Edmontonian said, “so it was exciting to get that one, especially at that time of the game.
“That one was huge. You can tell by the atmosphere in the room . . . the boys are so happy and it’s great to see.”
Linaker’s goal just may prove to be the one that all but sews up the B.C. Division title. With the victory, the division-leading Rockets pulled five points — 100-95 — ahead of the Blazers. The Blazers have three games remaining, the Rockets four. And they’ll stage a rematch tonight in Kelowna.
Kamloops, which had won its previous four games, the last two by shutout, appears headed for a first-round matchup with the Victoria Royals, a series that would begin here with games on March 22 and 23.
Last season, the Blazers swept the Royals from the first round.
Last night, the Blazers actually led 2-0 before the game was much more than six minutes old. And the way the Blazers were shredding the Rockets’ defence — the home boys had two goals on seven shots at goaltender Jordon Cooke — it looked like it might be an easy night.
However, Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska called his timeout after winger JC Lipon gave the Blazers a two-goal lead, his goal coming 1:48 after centre Brendan Ranford had opened the scoring.
Linaker said that Huska told his crew “to stick to the game plan.”
“He said there was a lot of hockey left and that we just had to stick to the game plan and we’d be fine,” recalled Linaker, who was a sixth-round selection in the 2010 bantam draft.
As the second half of the first period wore on, the Rockets began to push back. And it paid off in the second period with a couple of ugly goals.
The first one, at 4:18, was credited to winger Myles Bell, who returned after sitting out one game with a leg injury suffered in a 3-0 loss to the host Blazers on Sunday.
“It went off me . . . off my butt,” said Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave, whose shutout streak was ended at 148:56 by that goal. “It went to Bell and as I was pushing over to greet the puck on that side it went off my hip and in.”
That was at 4:18 of the second period. At 11:06, the Rockets tied it on a goal that went to forward Tyson Baillie.
“It went off my blocker,” said Cheveldave, “off my head and then . . . someone got a stick on it.”
Baillie, who has 24 goals, Linaker and freshman Rourke Chartier, who has scored a dozen times, play on what would be the Rockets’ fourth line, meaning they accounted for two of their club’s goals.
“It was a good night for us,” Linaker said. “We’ve been buzzing. We just have to keep it going and keep working hard.”
“Their fourth line scored two of their three goals,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “That can’t happen. The supporting cast has to have the ability to do a better job.
“Tonight, their fourth line was the difference in the hockey game.”
The Rockets also won this game because of their discipline. In recent visits, they have been haunted by trips to the penalty box. In this one, they gave the Blazers only one power-play opportunity.
“The Blazers have such a great offence and we can’t give them chances like that,” Linaker said. “To give them power plays like we did, it hurts the team. Tonight, we were good. We didn’t take very many penalties.”
In fact, they didn’t take any until the third period was almost 14 minutes old.
“You have to draw penalties,” Charron said. “Drawing penalties has to come from hard work, determination on the puck, make it difficult for the opposition to defend against you. Our effort consistently that way wasn’t up to par.”
The Blazers also paid a price for the void created by the absence of injured centres Matt Needham and Joe Kornelsen. Without those two, neither of whom will play tonight either, Charron dressed eight defencemen and spotted two of them up front.
“We’re missing two guys at centre who would give me the ability to make some changes,” Charron said. “We didn’t have enough people to sustain and create anything. I leaned on a few guys to play a lot of hockey.”
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 5,651. . . . Linaker, who has played in 33 games this season, had played in 14 games since he last scored in a 5-1 victory over the visiting Everett Silvertips on Dec. 30. . . . Ranford’s goal, his 20th of the season, gave him 350 career regular-season points, moving him out of a tie with Hnat Domenichelli for sixth place in franchise history. . . . The Daily News Three Stars — 1. Cooke: 32 saves for his 50th career victory; 2. Cheveldave: Solid; 3. Baillie: Around the puck. . . . The Blazers will conclude their regular-season schedule next weekend. The Prince George Cougars will play here Friday and the teams will journey north for a Saturday rematch. . . . Former Blazers D Victor Bartley made his NHL debut last night, playing 19:15 for the host Nashville Predators in a 6-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. . . . Former Blazers captain Chase Schaber was the game’s first star as he scored the winning goal in his ECHL debut with the host Idaho Steelheads. Schaber broke a 3-3 tie at 14:51 of the third period in a 5-3 victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators. F Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored twice for Gwinnett. Schaber signed with Idaho on Thursday, after playing with the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
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