|Kale Kessy has been a force for the Kamloops Blazers.|
(Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
Kale Kessy is standing in a hallway at Interior Savings Centre. It is Friday afternoon and the Kamloops Blazers’ practice has just concluded.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Kessy ponders the question for a moment and a grin begins to appear on his countenance.
“Never,” he says, and then he heads for the WHL team’s dressing room.
It’s true. Until now, Kessy never has led a league in goals at any point in a season.
And yet that’s where he finds himself tonight as the Blazers and Kelowna Rockets open a best-of-seven second-round series at Prospera Place in the Little Apple.
Going into Friday's playoff games, Kessy, who has played six games, and Kelowna forward Tyson Baillie, who has played seven, had seven goals apiece, and that’s tops in the WHL.
“It’s a a nice feeling,” Kessy said, “but I have to give credit for all of them . . . I’ve probably had close to seven wide-open nets. I just try to play in front of the goalie and work in the dirty areas. (Colin) Smith and my linemates have been doing a really good job of finding me there.”
The Blazers eliminated the Victoria Royals from a first-round series in six games, winning the last game 6-2 on Monday night. Kessy scored three times in that one, as he did in Game 4, a 5-4 overtime victory by the visiting Blazers. Those were the first hat tricks of his WHL career, which now is 287 games old.
“I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities right now,” Kessy offered. “I’m playing with a lot of good players. I’ve been playing with Smith for the last half of the season and the playoffs and he’s a really good player.”
Yes, there definitely seems to be some chemistry between Smith and Kessy, kind of like their is between Smith and Wesson — one loads and the other fires.
But perhaps we should have seen Kessy’s hot first round coming. After all, he finished the regular season with 11 points, five of them goals, in his last nine games. That allowed him to finish with 43 points, including 21 goals, in 60 games.
With the Blazers, who acquired him from the Vancouver Giants on ???? for forward Rob Trzonkowski, 18, and a 2015 fifth-round draft pick, he put up 25 points, 12 of them goals, in 31 games.
“There are some really talented players on this team,” Kessy said. “I’m more of a physical, energy guy. I’ll just work hard on my game this summer and try to improve the different aspects like stickhandling and shooting. I worked a lot on that last summer.
“I know I can play with those types of players — Smith and (JC) Lipon and (Brendan) Ranford and (Tim) Bozon and those guys.”
All of which is pretty good for a guy who, as a first-year bantam, was cut from a team in Swift Current. Kessy, who is from Shaunavon, promptly moved to Medicine Hat, where he played bantam and midget. In his final minor hockey season, he had 17 goals and 12 assists in 33 games with Medicine Hat’s midget AAA team.
While he was in The Hat, the Tigers placed him on their list. He would go on to play 195 games with the Tigers, before they dealt him to the Giants early this season.
When the Blazers acquired Kessy, he brought with him baggage that included seven separate suspensions, including a 12-game sentence that ended his days with the Tigers.
With the Blazers, however, he has keep his nose more than clean.
“I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities,” he reiterated. “I don’t think I have to prove myself fighting, but I’ll stick up for my teammates whenever I have to.”
While Kessy has turned into that most valuable of hockey commodities — a power forward who looks like he has some touch — NHL scouts were watching. Obviously, former Blazers general manager Stu MacGregor, who is the Edmonton Oilers’ head scout and who lives in Kamloops, was paying attention. Last week, the Oilers dealt forward Tobias Rieder to the Phoenix Coyotes for Kessy, who had been a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NHL draft. It was a classic case of teams swapping hustle for muscle.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Kessy said of now being Edmonton property. “The Oilers have a lot of young, talented, skilled players. I’ll work hard this summer and go into camp and try to do my best and see what happens.”
Before then, though, there are the Rockets. The Blazers left for the Little Apple shortly after practice yesterday.
“We just have to play Blazers hockey,” Kessy said. “We can’t get away from that. If we are playing our own game and our own style, we’ll be all right.”
And what is Blazers hockey?
“It’s good execution of our game plan,” he added. “Play with a lot of pace and keep pushing. We have to play a full 60 minutes. We have to get a lot of pucks behind their (defence). They’re missing some bodies so we have to forecheck them and play smart.”
Some teams — hello, there, Victoria — have made attempts to run at Kessy and get him off his game. Kessy said that kind of stuff doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t go into a game worrying about any other player,” he said. “I’d rather have them worrying about me.”
If he keeps scoring the way he has been, he will definitely be causing the opposition to sweat.
JUST NOTES: Game 2 in this series will be played in Kelowna on Sunday, 5 p.m., with Games 3 and 4 at Interior Savings Centre. Game time both nights will be 7 o’clock. . . . The entire series will be televised by Shaw. . . . Kamloops C Joe Kornelsen (leg) is expected to return tonight after missing 12 games. . . . Bozon (hand), however, is out long-term.
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