Friday, March 22, 2013

Daily News Sports Editor

Colin Smith has gotten quite used to wearing a target on his back whenever his Kamloops Blazers play against the Victoria Royals.
No, this doesn’t have anything to do with Smith endorsing the big-box retailer that soon is to become ubiquitous across this great country of ours.
Rather, it has to do with the Royals and their fondness for playing whack-a-Smitty, the way NBA teams once played hack-a-Shaq.
Smith, the Blazers’ leading scorer, expects more of the same starting tonight when the teams open a first-round best-of-seven WHL playoff series at Interior Savings Centre. Game time is 7 o’clock.
“It’s playoffs,” Smith said after practice on Thursday afternoon. “I don’t know what their game plan is, but I have to focus on playing my game. If they’re going to try and be physical, I just have to stick to my game and do what makes me successful, not focus on them.”
Smith was named to the Western Conference’s first all-star team yesterday, the only Kamloops player to cop an individual award. He finished with 106 points, including a team-high 41 goals. He is the first Kamloops player to get to 100 points since centre Erik Christensen won the WHL scoring title with 108 in 2002-03.
“Coming into the league . . . I wanted to get to that level,” said Smith, a 19-year-old from Edmonton. “It was a goal of mine coming into the season and it was nice to do it. There are so many guys on this team that it makes it easy for me to distribute the puck and, at the end of the day, they are the ones who are finishing it off and helping me get there.”
Smith also played in all 72 regular-season games, for a third straight season, and that’s something that also is important to him. Prior to his first season (2009-10), Smith suffered a broken arm in training camp. He came back to play in 17 games, then left for the U17 World Hockey Challenge. Smith rejoined the Blazers for a game on Jan. 5, 2010, and hasn’t left the lineup. He has played in 247 consecutive regular-season games. Toss in 19 playoff games, and he goes into tonight having played in his club’s last 266 games.
“That was unfortunate because it was really my first injury,” Smith said of that broken arm. At the time, he had heard the whispers that he wasn’t big enough “and can’t seem to stand with these big guys and I wanted to prove that I could and that I could play every game.”
He certainly has done that. He says he’s “an inch or two and 15 to 20 pounds” bigger than he was in that first training camp. And he’s certainly a whole lot stronger. For that, he gives a lot of credit to Body by Bennett in Edmonton, where he works out in the offseasons.
“For a guy like me with my stature, it’s tough to put on weight,” Smith explains. “I work with Simon Bennett every summer. His program is huge for me because even though it’s not a whole lot of weight, even if I’m just five pounds heavier, the difference in strength is huge and I’ll be able to play my game better in the gritty areas.”
Which is where you’ll find Smith over the next couple of nights. He loves nothing better than to be around the opposing team’s net, creating havoc and scoring chances.
The last time the Blazers and Royals met, in Kamloops on March 5, the home side posted a 6-0 victory in a game that got out of hand, at least from a Victoria perspective, in the third period. For its trouble, Victoria ended up with a $1,500 fine and nine games in suspensions, including a one-game sentence to head coach Dave Lowry.
Smith said the Blazers can’t afford to get involved in that kind of thing.
“Special teams, especially on the power play, are huge,” he said. “When goals are tough to come by, your best chances can come on the power play.”
That’s also why he knows that as important as emotion is to his game, he can’t afford to go over the line.
“Emotion is a big part of my game,” he said. “It’s a matter of, especially now at playoff time, channelling that and using it in the right way. . . . use that in a good way to get back at them where I can and that’s on the scoreboard.
“I’ll try to stay out of the box because I’m no good there.”
JUST NOTES: They’ll play at ISC again on Saturday, 7 p.m., before the scene shifts to Victoria’s Bear Mountain Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, the Royals’ home arena, is unavailable as it is home to the Ford world men’s curling championship through April 7. . . . The only players missing from the Blazers’ practice yesterday were F Joe Kornelsen (leg) and F Aspen Sterzer (concussion). . . . The Blazers will start Cole Cheveldave in goal. . . . We may not know until game time if Victoria G Patrik Polivka, who hasn’t played since March 5, or D Tyler Stahl, who has been out since March 2, will play. . . . If Polivka can’t play, the Royals will start Coleman Vollrath, a Calgarian who turned 18 on Jan. 19. Vollrath is 4-12-2, 3.54, .888 in his freshman season. . . . The Royals are the WHL’s most-penalized team, with 1,324 minutes, or 18.4 minutes per game. The Blazers are No. 6 on that list, at 1,180/16.4. Interestingly, though, the Royals only faced one more opposition power play than did the Blazers (321-320). . . . Kamloops is 12-5-0 in its last 17 games; the Royals are 3-12-2. . . . The Blazers got the Western Conference’s nomination for the WHL’s marketing/business award. The Saskatoon Blades are the Eastern Conference nominee.

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