The Kamloops Blazers' starting goaltender for Friday's game against the Victoria Royals was a closely-guarded secret - but only from the goaltender himself.
Bolton Pouliot made 30 saves as the Blazers defeated the Royals 4-3 at Interior Savings Centre. Pouliot was solid in recording his first victory since the Blazers acquired the 19-year-old Calgary native from the Red Deer Rebels on Sept. 9.
In the time Pouliot has been in Kamloops, the Blazers have gotten used to some of his interesting traits. For one, Pouliot doesn't like to know beforehand that he is starting in goal - he prefers to learn as close to puck drop as possible.
Generally, a goaltender will be told that he is starting a day or two before a game. Pouliot found out yesterday morning that he would be playing.
"He's a guy who's maybe a little superstitious," said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak. "He doesn't like to know too far in advance, he just likes to play. I think he did the job tonight."
The Rebels found ways to get the best out of Pouliot. In one case, when Pouliot made 37 saves in a 3-2 victory over the host Blazers on Feb. 17, 2012, Red Deer head coach Jesse Wallin had the other goaltender, Deven Dubyk, pretend to be injured in warm-up so Pouliot wouldn't know he was starting until the absolute last second.
"What I do is I think. I think waaaaay too much," Pouliot said. "By the time I get to the game, I'm tired, mentally drained."
Pouliot was solid and in control Friday, saving his best for a 14-save third period. The Royals' biggest damage came in the second, when Logan Nelson and hometown boy Joe Hicketts scored power-play goals four minutes apart.
The Blazers had worked their way to a 2-0 victory after a solid first period, then flushed it away with back-to-back penalties early in the second. Hunchak punished the team in practice for last weekend's penalties, which numbered 14 in a split with the host Prince George Cougars.
The Blazers gave up seven power plays Friday.
"Some questionable calls with some of the penalties, and that's where we gave up the majority of the shots, on the power play," Hunchak said. "We've got to continue to clean that up."
Austin Carroll scored the Royals' other goal.
Tyson Ness scored twice for the Blazers, and Aaron Macklin and Tim Bozon also struck.
Bozon's goal was his first of the season, ending a notable drought for a two-time 36-goal-scorer. He did it in spectacular fashion, blocking a Brandon Magee shot and racing down ice to beat Patrik Polivka on a shorthanded breakaway.
The goal, with 7:38 remaining, came not long after the Blazers killed off a 75-second 5-on-3 and broke a 3-3 tie.
"Last year and two years ago, I didn't play (penalty kill)," Bozon said. "I said I wanted to play PK this year, and that's a big part of that game - if you want to be a PK guy, you've got to block shots."
It was only fitting that the winning goal came after a blocked shot - the Blazers blocked a bunch in this one. It didn't matter if it was Matt Needham or Macklin, Bozon or Ryan Rehill, the Blazers were getting in the way.
"The team really helped me out tonight," Pouliot said. "The guys were blocking shots, they put four in the back of the net. That's a big game for us."
JUST NOTES: The Blazers are at home to the Cougars tonight, 7 o'clock, at ISC. . . . Attendance was 4,516. . . . Friday's referees were Dexter Rasmussen and Tyler Adair. Rasmussen, a Kamloopsian, is a first-year WHL referee, and was working his first game in Kamloops. . . . The Daily News' Three Stars: 1. Ness: Came up big; 2. Hicketts: This guy is everywhere; 3. Bozon: rewarded for hard work. . . . Blazers F Cole Ully sat out Game 1 of a two-game WHL suspension he received for a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct he took in Saturday's 3-1 loss in Prince George. He won't play tonight. . . . F JC Lipon and F Colin Smith, both still eligible to return to the Blazers, made their AHL debuts on Friday. Smith was held off the scoresheet as the Lake Erie Monsters lost 5-2 to the visiting Abbotsford Heat. Lipon scored as the St. John's Ice Caps lost 4-3 to the visiting Providence Bruins. Also scoring his first AHL goal for St. John's was Adam Lowry, the son of Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
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Saskatchewan and Manitoba named their squads for the Western Canadian under-16 Hockey Challenge on Friday, and three Blazers draft picks got the call.
D Dawson Davidson of Moosomin and F Garrett Pilon of Saskatoon were named to the Saskatchewan team, while F Jermaine Loewen of Arborg will suit up for Manitoba. All three players were picked by the Blazers in the 2013 bantam draft, Loewen and Davidson in the third round, Pilon in the seventh.
The Challenge is scheduled for Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 in Calgary, and the Alberta and B.C. teams will be named in the coming days.