Smith throws cold water on Vancouver

Victory keeps Blazers on top of WHL's overall standings

GREGG DRINNAN / Kamloops Daily News
November 26, 2012 01:00 AM

Charles Inglis of the Kamloops Blazers battles for the puck with Tanner Moar of the visiting Vancouver Giants in WHL action at Interior Savings Centre Saturday night.

Things must be looking up for the Kamloops Blazers.

Otherwise the Interior Savings Centre water pipe that burst late Saturday night would have done so in their locker-room, rather than above Dressing Room No. 3.

The pipe popped just as the Blazers were putting a bow on a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants.

The Blazers, five games into a seven-game homestand, were coming off back-to-back one-goal losses to the Regina Pats (2-1 in overtime) and Saskatoon Blades (3-2). They were 3-6-1 in their last 10 outings.

With the victory over Vancouver, which has lost four straight, the Blazers are 3-1-1 on a homestand that concludes with games Friday, against the Tri-City Americans, and Saturday, against the Moose Jaw Warriors.

The Blazers' 20th victory - they are 20-6-2 - kept them atop the WHL's overall standings, one point ahead of the Portland Winterhawks (20-4-1), who hold three games in hand and don't play again until Friday when they entertain the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The Giants (7-17-0) have the 22-team WHL's poorest record - they are the only team with a winning percentage (.292) below .300 - but they gave the Blazers all they could handle in the season's first meeting between the B.C. Division rivals.

Kamloops centre Colin Smith, the WHL's reigning player of the week, snapped a scoreless tie with two second-period goals, jamming the puck through goaltender Payton Lee, the 16-year-old from Cranbrook who has taken over as Vancouver's starter, on a power play at 7:26 and slamming home a rebound at 17:13.

"We just got grittier, the three of us," Smith said of he and linemates Tim Bozon and JC Lipon. "We went to the net. We were able to capitalize on a few chances. That's what we have to do. We've had chances and they're bound to go in. We just have to go to the dirty areas and bear down."

Forward Carter Popoff, a 17-year-old from Richmond who is part of the Giants' youth movement, got credit for Vancouver's goal when he bounced a shot off the left skate of Kamloops forward Charles Inglis and over the goal line behind Cole Cheveldave.

When it was over, the Blazers held a 31-27 edge in shots and they didn't have an overabundance of scoring chances. But they were a lot better than they had been against the Blades.

"We were faced with not really generating the offence we would have liked to have," Guy Charron, the Blazers' head coach, said, "but I thought we stuck with it.

"The encouraging thing for me was that even after they scored I thought the bench picked up and there was a sense of confidence that the job could be done. That's the feeling we had when we were winning."

One night earlier, in losing to Saskatoon, the Blazers had coughed up a 2-0 third-period lead. Their confidence level as it all came apart was about on a par with a snake's belly.

"The last little while we didn't sense that (confidence)," Charron said. "We were hoping it was going to happen but we didn't have the sense that we could go out there and do the job. But after (Vancouver) scored . . . the team was really focused. There was a lot of talking on the bench . . . so that's a positive thing."

Smith agreed.

"It was a different reaction," he said. "(Friday) night, we were on our heels. Tonight, on the bench, we were saying 'we're all right.' Everyone just wanted to pitch in and finish the game strong. We were able to respond and push pucks back in their zone."

The Blazers were off Sunday and will begin preparing today for Tri-City and Moose Jaw. A lot of the work will almost certainly focus on getting back to playing to their strengths.

"We're a skating team . . . it's pressure, putting pucks deep and working them in the other end," Charron said. "Not sitting back and allowing the other team to come after us and hope that no damage occurs."

Which is what the Blazers did against Saskatoon when they got their fingers burned.

In the losses to Regina and Saskatoon, the Blazers also allowed themselves to get distracted by some physical play and after-the-whistle hooliganism.

Before Saturday's game, Charron said, the coaching staff showed some video from the Saskatoon game and asked: "Is that our team?"

"Teams tried to intimidate us last season and we didn't fall into it," Charron said. "We stuck to our game. We need to go back to what gave us the success last season and this season. That's our identity.

"We aren't the kind of team that can use that kind of stuff that maybe some teams like to use. That's not our game. Our game is to play hard, skate, work and force other teams to work to our level."

JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,930. . . . Kamloops G Cole Cheveldave stopped 26 shots, three fewer than Lee. . . . Over their last 42 games, the Blazers will play the Giants seven times. They next meet on Dec. 9 in Vancouver. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Smith: Two goals and lots of grit; 2. D Tyler Hansen, Kamloops: Tough in own zone; 3. Popoff: A goal and bruises, and never quit. . . . The Blazers have played four straight one-goal games, going 2-1-1. Overall, they are 9-2-2 in one-goal games. . . . After Saturday's game, the Blazers dropped F Brayden Gelsinger, 17, from their roster. He was pointless in 12 games and had been a healthy scratch for four straight games. Gelsinger, from Regina, is expected to join the midget AAA Tisdale, Sask., Trojans or an SJHL club. . . .

When the Blazers entertain the Warriors on Saturday night, it will be the annual Teddy Bear Night. . . . The Blazers will leave immediately after that game as they have a Sunday evening date with the Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash. . . . The Warriors open their B.C. Division swing in Victoria on Tuesday, then will play Wednesday in Vancouver and Friday in Kelowna. . . . The Americans are in Kelowna on Wednesday, then play at the ISC on Friday. . . .

Spokane's Don Nachbaur became the fourth head coach in WHL history to stand behind the bench for 1,000 games on Saturday as his Chiefs beat the visiting Americans, 5-2. Nachbaur joins Ken Hodge (1,114), Ernie (Punch) McLean (1,067) and Lorne Molleken (1,018) in the 1,000-game club. . . . Ryan Huska won his 200th game as a WHL head coach on Saturday when his Kelowna Rockets dropped Molleken's visiting Saskatoon Blades, 9-2. Huska, a former Blazers forward, is the Kelowna franchise's winningest head coach. . . . The Blades lost D Kyle Schmidt, 19, in that one. He's gone for up to 10 weeks with an undisclosed injury.

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