By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
To the victors go the spoils.
In this case, the victors are the Kamloops Blazers and the spoils are eight days off before they resume their WHL playoff schedule.
The Blazers, who completed a four-game sweep of the Kelowna Rockets on Wednesday night, will begin the Western Conference final against the Winterhawks in Portland on April 19 and 20.
Games 3 and 4 are to be played at Interior Savings Centre on April 23 and 24.
After Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the visiting Rockets, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said his players would be given “a couple of days to themselves.”
He added that the players would “be back on Saturday,” although he said he didn’t think they would skate.
“We have plenty of time,” Charron said. “We want to make sure they’re rested and ready.”
The time off also will be good for the walking wounded.
Centre Colin Smith suffered a suspected concussion early in the second period of the first game against Kelowna on Saturday and missed the last three games. He skated on Wednesday morning but there never was a chance that he would play in Game 4.
However, Smith, who led the Blazers with 106 points in the regular season, should play in Game 1 in Portland.
Bozon, however, is a different story.
The Swiss sophomore is sporting a cast after suffering a fracture in his right hand during a game-ending melee against the host Victoria Royals on March 26. The recovery time for such injuries normally is in the area of four weeks. If all goes well, that could put Bozon on track for a return late in the series against Portland.
Smith, who also had a team-high 41 goals, finished behind only Portland linemates Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan (each 120 points) and Ty Rattie (110) in the regular-season scoring race. Bozon was tied for eighth, with 91 points, including 36 goals.
As well, centre Dylan Willick, the Blazers’ captain, went down awkwardly late in Wednesday’s game and left the ice in some discomfort. The rest can only help him.
“It’ll be all good,” Charron said of Willick.
The Rockets, playing their sixth game in nine nights, could have rolled over on Wednesday and no one would have raised an eyebrow.
They didn’t, though, as they erased a 3-1 third-period deficit before eventually losing to an overtime goal by Kamloops right-winger Kale Kessy.
“We had it all season,” Ryan Huska, the Rockets’ head coach, said. “We were a resilient team all season. We weren’t surprised that we didn’t roll over. We fought through a fair amount of things. We expect (our players) to push.”
The Rockets started this season 2-7 and found themselves well behind the Blazers, who went on an early-season 14-game winning streak. However, Kelowna recovered and finished 52-16-4, good enough to place them atop the B.C. Division. But, in the opening round, the Rockets ran into a determined bunch of Seattle Thunderbirds, who had finished 50 points behind them. The Rockets lost the first three games to Seattle, then won the last four to take the series, 4-3. Five of the games, including the last two, went into overtime. And the last two were played on back-to-back nights in different cities.
There’s not much doubt that the Rockets, who at times had seven players scratched, were a tired bunch by the time Wednesday’s game ended. But Huska was having none of that.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “Kamloops was the better team in this series.”
Referees Chris Crich and Devin Klein handed out 12 minor penalties on Wednesday, each of them resulting in a power play. The Rockets took 11 of those minors – the first six and the last five.
Asked about the penalties, Huska took a moment, measured his words and replied:
“I find it sad . . . when in this type of a game the calls are 11-1. And I find it even sadder that it was a televised game where people see that type of officiating. . . . No discredit to (the Blazers) for what they did on the other side, but if you look back at this series, it was sad.”
When F JC Lipon scored at 3:43 of overtime to give the Blazers a 5-4 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday, it was the first time Kamloops had won an OT game on home ice since April 6, 1996. On that occasion, F Jarome Iginla’s power-play goal at 13:23 gave the Blazers a 4-3 victory over the Tri-City Americans in Game 2 of a best-of-five conference semifinal that Kamloops woud win, 3-2.
Of course, the Blazers then won a second straight OT game at home on Wednesday. Kessy’s goal, at 2:42 of OT, allowed the Blazers to wrap up a playoff series at home for the first time since April 11, 1996, when they beat the Americans, 5-1. The Blazers had trailed 2-1 in that series, before winning 6-1 in Kennewick, Wash., on April 9. The Blazers then lost the conference final to Spokane in six games.
JUST NOTES: Lipon leads the WHL playoffs in assists (16) and points (21). He is the only WHL player with at least a point in each of his team’s games. . . . Rattie and Kessy lead with 11 goals. . . . Rattie has 19 points, leaving him tied with Kamloops F Brendan Ranford, who has 13 points in his last five games. . . . The Blazers scored three power-play goals on Wednesday, including Kessy’s winner, on the power play. That’s a 27.2 per cent success rate, which is excellent in any coach’s opinion. . . . Iginla finished the 1996 playoffs with 16 goals in 16 games. Kessy is the first Kamloops skater since then to reach double digits in goals.
There has never been a subscription fee for this blog, but if you enjoy stopping by here, why not consider donating to the cause? Just click HERE. . . and thank you very much.