When the Kamloops Blazers woke up this morning, they were all alone on top of the mountain.
With goaltender Cole Cheveldave stopping 23 shots, the Blazers got past the Prince George Cougars 3-0 on Friday night at Interior Savings Centre to move back into sole possession of first place in the WHL's overall standings.
"That was a good Christmas present for the fans," Cheveldave said of his second shutout this season and the sixth of his two-season career.
While the Blazers were beating the Cougars (10-15-4), the Portland Winterhawks were losing 3-2 to the visiting Tri-City Americans. The Blazers (23-7-3) and Winterhawks (23-5-1) had been tied for first place overall, although Portland does hold four games in hand.
This was the Blazers' final home game until after Christmas. They will play the Giants in Vancouver on Sunday and then head into Alberta for four games before breaking for 11 days.
The Blazers come back from Christmas to play the Rockets in Kelowna on Dec. 27 and are at home to the Giants on Dec. 29.
Last night, the Blazers were full marks for the victory as they completely shut down a mostly listless bunch of Cougars
"We did a great job in the (defensive) zone," said Cheveldave, whose best save may have come early in the first period when he got a blocker on a shot by centre Troy Bourke.
"We had enough opportunities on the power play," Cougars head coach Dean Clark said. "We just didn't come off the bus very prepared to play. We didn't have any emotion. This by far was our worst peformance, just from an energy standpoint."
According to the Blazers' count, they held a 20-12 edge in chances, with the Cougars getting most of their opportunities while on the power play. However, the Blazers' penalty killers, led by Matt Needham, were 5-for-5.
"Needham was unreal . . . blocking shots," Cheveldave said. "I have to give the guy some credit . . . give him a bump. He's fearless. He's found his niche this season."
Needham, the eighth overall selection in the 2010 bantam draft, has only 10 points in 33 games, but he has become a valuable defensive player.
"He deserves a lot of credit," Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. "His work ethic has been more what it's about. Offensively, things haven't worked out his way maybe. But what he has to understand for this season is that's more the role we're expecting of him and if he accepts that role there'll be ample opportunity for him to create some offence."
The Blazers, as has been the case of late, created chances last night but had trouble scoring. Prince George goaltender Brett Zarowny was solid in making 30 saves.
He gave up one goal in each period, with defenceman Marek Hrbas, centre Colin Smith and defenceman Joel Edmundson beating him.
Edmundson, who was acquired from the Moose Jaw Warriors on Thursday, scored his third goal of the season on a booming one-timer from the right faceoff dot off a Chase Souto pass.
Edmundson, 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from Brandon, admitted to being nervous in his debut here.
"After I dropped the mitts it relaxed me and I just played my game," he said, referring to a bout with Cougars defenceman Dan Gibb early in the second period.
With the Warriors in reloading mode, Edmundson said he wasn't surprised to be traded.
"I was expecting something but I wasn't really expecting it until after Christmas," he said. "It's good to get it done with and I'm really happy (to be here). It's a great organization . . . great guys. I couldn't be happier."
He also is looking forward to playing in the Western Conference, which features more skating than the east where, Edmundson said, "there's a lot of skill but it's mostly grinding it out."
"I'll have to get used to that and I have to take the body more," he added.
Asked if he would rather skate or grind, he was quick to respond, laughing and saying: "I'm a grinder."
Charron is looking forward to having Edmundson at his disposal.
"He's a quality player," Charron said. "He brings a dimension . . . it's authority. He's an imposing young man. Plus, he can shoot the puck a ton."
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,783. . . . The Blazers lost F Aspen Sterzer at 3:43 of the first period when he was given a checking-to-the-head major and game misconduct for a hit on Cougars D Joseph Carvalho. That almost certainly will mean Sterzer won't play Sunday in Vancouver, although the Blazers are likely to plead his case with the WHL office. . . . Smith's goal was his 23rd, tying him with Spokane Chiefs F Todd Fiddler for the WHL lead. Smith and linemate JC Lipon are tied atop the points race, each with 57. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Needham: Impressive on penalty kill; 2. Cheveldave: A blank job; 3. Edmundson: Strong debut. . . . The Blazers are 3-0-0 versus the Cougars, with all three games having been played here and the first two having gone to shootouts.