By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
If you weren’t aware, the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers just don’t like each other.
It’s the Hatfields and McCoys on ice, but without the guns, of course.
And the bad blood was very much in evidence again Friday night, as the Rockets dropped the Blazers 4-0 in what should have been a simple exhibition game at Interior Savings Centre.
With Kelowna unable to dress the full complement of players — two goaltenders and 18 skaters — due to having two injured players and seven others at NHL camps, the Blazers agreed to dress down, too. The home boys used 16 skaters, while the visitors dressed 15.
It could have been worse for the Rockets, too, as they had five players leave the game at various stages, all shaken up. Only sophomore forward Rourke Chartier didn’t return, leaving after taking a third-period check to the head from Blazers forward Devin Oakes, who was tossed from the proceedings and likely is looking at a WHL-issued suspension.
Had it been all hands on deck, things may only have been chippier than they were. And, as it were, referees Duncan Brow and Mike Campbell handed out (27) minor penalties, two fighting majors, two misconducts, two game misconducts and the penalties to Oakes.
“Our discipline wasn’t even close to where it needs to be,” said Kamloops head coach Dave Hunchak, who was clearly disgruntled after this one. “We gave up 10 power plays . . . they scored on two.”
The Blazers were given 70 of the game’s 119 penalty minutes.
“We took some foolish penalties at bad times. . . . that just isn’t good enough,” Hunchak continued. “We have standards to meet and it didn’t get done tonight. . . . We have to control our game between the whistles.”
The Blazers, now 1-2 in the preseason, escaped from the first period trailing only 1-0 and even, at 12, on the shot clock. But the second period was a decidedly different story as the Rockets (2-1) scored twice, were given the period’s only three power plays, and outshot their hosts, 18-5.
“It was the same as our first two games,” said Hunchak, whose side has been outshot 119-70 in three games. “We were inconsistent in a lot of areas. At times we competed very hard, at other times we didn’t.”
A big part of the problem, Hunchak feels, is that the Blazers are searching for an identity.
“We have to accept who we are,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of skill in our group right now, so we have to play a very basic game, a simple chip-and-chase type of game, and try to make teams play below their goal line.”
There wasn’t much of that last night, especially with the Rockets getting 10 power-play opportunities, while the Blazers had five.
Forward Tyson Baillie had two goals for the Rockets, with singles coming from Chartier, who also had two assists, and Justin Kirkland. The visitors also got a big game from defenceman MacKenzie Johnston, 20, who drew three assists and was physical.
Kelowna goaltender Jordon Cooke, 20, turned aaside 26 shots in recording the first shutout of this WHL exhibition season.
Hunchak spent a long time in the dressing room after the game, especially when one considers that this was an exhibition game. Asked what the message to the players was, he replied:
“We have to talk; we have to come together as a group. There are a lot of new faces in that room. Every time we come to the rink we have to engage in conversation.
“Guys can’t text each other in the dressing room . . . you have to talk. That’s how you become a team.”
This was the Blazers’ final home appearance of the exhibition season. They are scheduled to meet the Vancouver Giants at Burnaby’s Bill Copeland Arena on Sunday, 3 p.m., then will finish up in Prince George against the Cougars on Sept. 14.
Kamloops opens the regular season at home, against these same Rockets, on Sept. 20. The teams will meet up again the following night in Kelowna.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 1,727. . . . Kamloops G Taran Kozun went the distance. He turned aside 36 shots. . . . F Tristan Sieben, acquired Thursday by Kamloops from Vancouver, didn't play. . . . Blazers D Sam Grist wasn’t available, after leaving earlier in the day to join the San Jose Sharks at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton. Grist, 20, didn’t play against the Winnipeg Jets and former Blazers F JC Lipon last night. Lipon had nine penalty minutes as the Jets won, 5-3. . . . The Sharks also are to play Sunday against the Calgary Flames, meaning Grist won’t be available for the Blazers’ game against the Giants. . . . Vancouver is apparently down to one goaltender, so if something should happen to Payton Lee during Sunday’s game, the Blazers’ backup will play for the Giants. . . . In a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., last night, Blazers F Cole Ully was pointless as his Dallas Stars lost 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. Former Kamloops F Brendan Ranford had one power-play assist for the Stars.
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.