Mark Recchi, one of the Kamloops Blazers’ owners, will light the cauldron as the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay takes over Hillside Stadium tonight.
Linemates C.J. Stretch and Brendan Ranford lit the Blazers’ torch Tuesday night at Interior Savings Centre as the home boys drilled the Spokane Chiefs, one of the WHL’s best defensive teams, 8-1 in front of 4,030 fans.
Originally, this game was to have been played tonight. But it was moved so as not to conflict with the torch relay that is scheduled to hit our town late this afternoon.
With the victory, the Blazers (24-23-2-3) moved back into sixth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the idle Chilliwack Bruins. Kamloops also closed to within five points of the fifth-place Chiefs (27-18-3-1), although Spokane holds three games in hand. The Chiefs visit the Bruins tonight, while the Blazers next play Friday when they entertain the Vancouver Giants.
“When it rains, it pours,” offered Hardy Sauter, the Chiefs’ head coach, after a game in which he yanked his goaltender three times. In the end, starter Michael Tadjdeh, who at one time was beaten on four straight shots, and James Reid gave up eight goals on just 24 shots.
“We were prepared to play a good team,” said Kamloops head coach Guy Charron. “We played the way we need to play in our building. The guys wanted to put out the right effort that we have to against a good team.
“Obviously, we took advantage of goaltending lapses.”
Stretch, who is closing in on the franchise’s career games played record, had a goal and four assists for the first five-point night of his career. It came in his 321st game, three shy of Aaron Gionet’s franchise record.
Stretch’s previous career high was four points in a game — he had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 victory over the host Prince George Cougars on Feb. 28.
“It feels good,” said Stretch, who has 33 points, including 21 assists, in his last 23 games. “It felt like everything was going my way. Me and Ranford and (Jake) Trask . . . we’re connecting.”
Trask, the third member of that line, had two assists.
“It’s a good feeling,” Stretch said, “especially against the team with the least goals against.”
Stretch scored his 20th goal of the season but lost the team goal-scoring lead to Ranford, who now has 21 after having his first WHL three-goal game and his second four-point outing. He had two goals and two assists on Jan. 8 in a 6-4 victory over the visiting Kelowna Rockets.
The hat trick resulted in one hat being tossed onto the ice . . . on the first stoppage following the goal.
The Blazers, sparked by Ranford’s goal at 2:12 of the first period, torched Tadjdeh for two goals on as many shots, with winger Ryan Hanes beating him off the cross-bar at 3:09.
That second goal, coming from the Blazers’ energy line, was as big as any on this night. JC Lipon and Mark Hall, who skate alongside Hanes, drew the assists.
“They know their role,” Charron said. “They have to go out and try to put some pressure on the opposing team, try to keep the puck deep. It’s nice when they’re rewarded, that’s for sure.”
Sauter made his first goaltending switch following Hanes’ goal. On this night, however, Sauter would have needed a sheet of plywood to stop the puck.
“That’s the worst night I can remember in years,” Sauter said.
Defenceman Ryan Funk, centre Dalibor Bortnak and left-winger Matej Bene also scored for the Blazers.
Kamloops goaltender Kurtis Mucha, who was making his 14th start in the club’s last 19 games, was calm, cool and collected throughout this one. He finished with 26 saves, losing his shutout when left-winger Dominik Uher scored on a power play at 12:41 of the second period.
“Our third and fourth lines were hitting guys and creating so much energy for us,” Stretch said. “It was just a good feeling with them going. We need all four lines going to put a couple of wins together, especially with Vancouver coming here Friday.”
JUST NOTES: Each team took seven minor penalties and went 1-for-5 on the power play. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Stretch — it was his puck for 40 minutes; 2. Ranford — continues to play with energy and purpose; 3. Funk — best of the back-enders. . . . Recchi was scheduled to arrive in Kelowna at midnight. He will take part in the torch run and light the cauldron at Hillside Stadium before heading back to Kelowna and catching a 6 a.m. flight to Seattle. From there, it will be on to Buffalo where the Bruins meet the Sabres on Friday night.