By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
There were fewer than seven minutes left in the third period of Friday’s WHL playoff game when the crowd began chanting “Chevy! Chevy!! Chevy!!!”
Cole Cheveldave, the Kamloops Blazers’ starter, was so deep in whatever zone it is that smokin’ hot goaltenders inhabit, that the noise wasn’t able to penetrate.
“I can’t hear anything,” Cheveldave said after backstopping his guys to a 3-2 victory over the Victoria Royals at Interior Savings Centre. “Thank you, but I’m in the zone.”
That was a no-goal zone in the third period, when Cheveldave, a 19-year-old sophomore from Calgary, made four or five scintillating, scene-stealing stops, saves that no doubt kept the Blazers from turning the thrill of victory into the agony of defeat.
This was the first game of a best-of-seven first-round series. They’ll play Game 2 here tonight — the fun starts at 7 o’clock — and then the scene shifts to Victoria’s Bear Mountain Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
This also was a terrific playoff game, one that featured a little bit of everything and a lot of physical play, but was highlighted by Cheveldave’s third-period performance.
With the score 2-2 early in the period, he got a right pad on a Mitch Deacon shot that turned out only to be a portend.
Eight minutes in, which was about three minutes after winger JC Lipon had snapped that tie, Cheveldave trumped Jamie Crooks and Brandon Magee, two of the Royals’ aces.
First, Cheveldave made a great stop on Crooks on a backdoor play, somehow getting a pad in the air while prone, then he rolled over and stopped Magee from scoring.
“I knew I couldn’t get high enough,” Cheveldave said of the stop on Crooks, “so I started rolling and, sure enough, it was a pad stack . . . pretty happy with that one.”
Those two stops kind of overshadowed another save that came later, this one a come-across to take an open side away from forward Logan Nelson.
“We broke down too much in the third period,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “Our goaltender held the fort tonight, which is great.”
Charron is correct about the third-period breakdowns. The Royals’ forwards won a lot of one-on-one battles in the Kamloops zone in the final 20 minutes, which is when they had 11 of their 24 shots.
“For sure, he bailed us out,” Lipon said of Cheveldave. “But that’s playoff hockey. It was a good win . . . good confidence for the guys. We can only get better.”
Lipon, who sat out the last two regular-season games, scored twice, breaking a 2-2 tie at 4:37 of the third period as he beat goaltender Patrik Polivka from a mad scramble in close.
Four minutes later, Lipon was presented with a shorthanded breakaway, only to hit the crossbar.
“I was a little shaky in the first period,” Lipon said. “I hadn’t played in a little while so it was to be expected. But we came back and pulled something out so it worked out.”
Winger Kale Kessy also scored for Kamloops, while centre Steven Hodges, who was terrific, had both Victoria goals.
“In a seven-game series like this, you really can’t be too disappointed after one game,” Hodges said. “(Cheveldave) had a good game; I’m not going to take that away from him. But we have to capitalize on our opportunites that we get like that against him.”
The Royals were pleased to welcome back Polivka, who turned 19 on March 4. A native of the Czech Republic, he had been out since March 5 with an undisclosed injury. On this night, he fought it early and gave up some big rebounds, but he settled down in the game’s latter half and finished with 33 stops.
“Patty played awesome,” Hodges said. “It seems like it was a goaltending battle. They both made big saves.”
And when this one was over, both teams were promising more of the same — and then some — for tonight.
“Our whole team stayed with our systems and played very systematically,” Hodges said. “Good for us to buy into the system and it shows that when we do we have success.”
While pleased with the victory, Charron expects better from his guys.
“Our execution wasn’t as good as it should have been,” he said. “(We weren’t) going to the net and weren’t doing the things that we needed to do to be more successful. We knew there were ample rebounds there and we weren’t converting on them.
“To their credit, they never stopped pushing. If you keep teams around long enough, they feel confident that they can win the hockey game.
“But to see your goaltender play as well as he did tonight, that’s very encouraging, and I know we can be better.”
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,638. . . . The Blazers were 2-for-6 on the power play; the Royals were 1-for-3. . . . Victoria D Tyler Stahl, who hasn’t played since March 2 and is believed to have a concussion from a hit he took against the Spokane Chiefs on March 2, originally was in the lineup and took the warmup. He was moving awfully gingerly, though, and was scratched after the warmup. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Cheveldave: Big night; 2. Hodges: Best forward out there; 3. Lipon: Big goal at right time. . . . A year ago, the Blazers swept the Royals in a first-round series. F Tim Bozon scored twice in a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of that series.
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