Sunday, September 23, 2007

Blazers win on THE GOAL

From The Daily News of Monday, Sept. 24, 2007 . . .

Those who were there will be talking about THE GOAL for a long, long time.
In time, legend will have it that far more than 4,314 fans were at Interior
Savings Centre on that Saturday night in September 2007 when right-winger
Juuso Puustinen scored THE GOAL that gave his Kamloops Blazers a 3-2
overtime victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds.
But — and don’t let the hockey purists know this — if it hadn’t been for the
fight, THE GOAL may never have happened.
Because the Blazers were treading water in this WHL game, trailing 2-0 more
than halfway through the second period when veteran winger Sasha Golin duked
it out with Seattle’s Brad Bakken. It was a draw, but Golin’s involvement
sparked his mates.
“Golin’s fight got us going,” offered Dean Clark, the Blazers’ general
manager and head coach. “His mixing it up kind of gave us a spark.”
But it was THE GOAL, one that came with 20 seconds left in OT, that gave
them the victory, one that erased the bitter memory of Friday’s 2-1 home-ice
loss to the Chilliwack Bruins.
Puustinen, who had tied the game at 7:24 of the third period, took a nifty
pass from centre Brock Nixon, showed Seattle defenceman Steve Chaffin a move
that would have brought a smile to the face of Max Bentley, the Dipsy Doodle
Dandy from Delisle, then put a Savardian spin-o-rama on goaltender Riku
Helenius and tucked a backhander into the short side.
It was not a goal; it was THE GOAL.
(Chaffin, a 16-year-old rookie from Calgary, had an interesting night. A
couple of minutes before THE GOAL, he took a point shot that hit a skate and
glanced off a post. In the third period, he broke his stick, went to the
bench on a change and Seattle got called for too many men.)
“That was an unbelievable goal,” Clark said. “I don’t think anyone left
their seat until they could see the replay.”
“Nixie,” Puustinen said, “made a nice little backhand saucer pass straight
to my tape. I saw I was one-on-one with the d-man. I had a perfect angle so
I chipped the puck behind him and skated around him. I knew the goalie . . .
he is my good friend . . . I knew he was going to come out a little bit at
me. The short side was open and I knew that so I just made a little
spin-o-rama and backhanded it.”
It was a case of one Finn putting the fin(n)ish on another Finn.
Puustinen and Helenius have been friends for three or four years. They have
been teammates on under-16, 17 and 18 teams and hope to play on the
country’s national junior team in December.
“It’s kind of funny,” Puustinen said. “His first game in the WHL and I
scored two goals against him.”
Only Helenius, a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL’s
2006 draft, wasn’t laughing. Later, he did stop by to say “howdy do” to
Puustinen. On this night, you know that Puustinen had the last word.
After Puustinen’s goal, there was a pregnant pause as folks looked to their
right and then to their left, to see if anyone else had seen the same thing
they had. Then he joint erupted. The Blazers poured off their bench and held
a celebratory scrum in one corner.
“That,” Nixon said, “was unbelievable. As soon as that went in . . . I don’t
think I breathed for two minutes in that pile in the corner I was yelling so
Just like that the Blazers, who trailed 2-0 going into the last minute of
the second period, had pulled one out of the fire.
Right-winger Isak Quakenbush, on a shorthanded breakaway in the first
period, and defenceman Thomas Hickey, on a second-period power play, had
given the visitors a 2-0 lead.
That lasted until 19:02 of the second when Nixon corralled a long rebound
off his own shot and slapped it past Helenius.
“The goal with a minute left in the second period was huge for us,” Clark
said. “It got us back into it. It gave us a chance.”
Puustinen tied it in the third period, snapping a wrist shot through
Helenius while on the power play.
“You have a lead and you end up losing the game,” offered Seattle head coach
Rob Sumner, whose club was playing for the first time in the regular season.
“A sloppy play in our own end with under a minute left in the second period
gave them a goal. And our second too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty leads to a
power-play goal.”
Nixon and Puustinen, who totaled 150 points, including 67 goals, while
playing together through a lot of last season, spent most of the weekend’s
first five periods on different lines. Clark changed things up to start
Saturday’s third period, though, reuniting them and rewarding freshman
Shayne Wiebe for some solid play by putting him on the left side.
“I was just trying to get Nixon and (Puustinen) going a little bit better,”
Clark said. “As soon as (Nixon) got with (Puustinen), all of a sudden he’s
playing better . . .”
One player who was solid through both games was goaltender Justin Leclerc.
“Leclerc was very, very solid,” Clark said. “He gave us a chance to win both
games. If he plays like that, that’s exactly what we need from a
The Blazers are off until Sunday when they play host to the Portland Winter
Hawks. Game time is 6 p.m.
Fans will be talking about THE GOAL as they file into The ATM.
JUST NOTES: After a strong game from referee Andy Thiessen in Friday’s
opener, the WHL dropped two zebras into The ATM for Saturday’s game. It is
to be hoped that Saad Al-Jadir and Steve Papp have better games this season.
. . . Somehow each team came out of this one with six minors and a major,
and each was 1-for-6 on the power play.

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