The Kamloops Blazers have been relegated to the role of spoiler already this season, but it was Vancouver Giants forward Cain Franson who spoiled the party Sunday.
Franson scored two goals, including the winner with 1:41 remaining, as the Giants defeated the Blazers 4-3 at Interior Savings Centre. It was the Blazers’ fourth straight loss, and dropped the Western Conference’s last-place team to 9-25-4, 16 points out of playoff position.
With the postseason but a pipe dream, the Blazers are working to improve every day and pick up the odd victory here and there.
Sunday’s effort was enough to have Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak relatively pleased.
After all, his troops had battled hard throughout the game, bounced back from a two-goal deficit to go ahead in the second period, and provided an entertaining show for the season-high announced crowd of 4,799 fans.
But Franson’s winner, on a scramble in front, ruined the fun.
“I thought we played hard tonight,” Hunchak said. “I thought the last couple of games we played at home, we haven’t played well at all. I felt tonight . . . we played determined, we played hard.”
The Giants scored the game’s first two goals, off the sticks of Alec Baer and Blake Orban, and the last two, both from Franson. Kamloops got its goals from Aspen Sterzer, with two, and Sam Grist.
“They came out hard,” said 20-year-old Giants forward Tim Traber, who had three assists.
“Credit to them, they played all 60 minutes hard, and they gave us a run for our money.
“What it came down to was sacrificing ourselves and working hard. It could have gone both ways.”
Goaltender Taran Kozun made 27 saves for the Blazers, seven more than Vancouver’s Payton Lee.
Perhaps the worst news for the Blazers came when Matt Needham left the game late in the second period with a right leg injury. It’s the same leg he had injured on the Blazers’ six-game road trip before Christmas.
“He blocked a shot, he’s got a nagging injury as it is already,” Hunchak said, noting that Needham’s absence is “more precautionary and we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow.”
The injury turned a depleted Blazers lineup into a skeleton crew — Joe Kornelsen and Luke Harrison are out with head injuries, while Chase Souto is nursing a right-hand injury and Nick Chyzowski is at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia.
Kamloops had only 10 available forwards at the end of the game, five of them rookies.
“I liked our resolve tonight, I liked our pushback,” Hunchak said. “Simply put, we pretty much ran out of gas.”
Sterzer disagreed with his coach.
“You can’t really say that,” said the 19-year-old native of Canal Flats. “It’s tough — 10 guys, it’s obviously a lot harder to play. You’re running short on bodies, but you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got and I don’t think you can use that as an excuse.”
JUST NOTES: Kamloops is off to Kent, Wash., on Tuesday to play the host Seattle Thunderbirds in a New Year’s Eve assignment. . . . This was Traber’s 250th career game, and his first three-point effort. . . . With G Bolton Pouliot still a week or two away from returning from a hand injury, the Blazers dressed G Bailey De Palma as their emergency backup for the second straight game. The only way he would have gotten in is if Kozun was injured and couldn’t complete the game. . . . D Kole Bryks, 16, made his WHL debut for the Giants on Sunday. He had been with the midget AAA St. Albert (Alta.) Raiders. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Traber: Big man was all around; 2. Sterzer: Always seems to make something happen; 3. Vancouver D Brett Kulak: An assist in a smooth, confident effort. . . . F Max James, a Kamloops product, has been called up by the Tri-City Americans for the next few weeks. James has been with the junior B Kamloops Storm. . . . The Giants were without two defencemen due to WHL suspensions. Dalton Thrower, 20, was serving the second of a two-game ban he sustained before Christmas, while Shaun Dosanjh, 17, is awaiting a suspension after taking a checking-to-the head major in the third period of the Giants’ 4-2 loss to the visiting Kelowna Rockets on Saturday.