The Kamloops Blazers have company in the WHL's penthouse for the first time in more than six weeks.
The Blazers, who took sole possession of first place on Oct. 14, dropped a 3-1 decision to the Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash., on Sunday night. That followed a 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday in the annual Teddy Bear Game.
When the smoke had cleared, Kamloops (21-7-3) and the Portland Winterhawks (22-4-1), who have won 11 in row, were tied atop the overall standings, each with 45 points. However, the Winterhawks now hold four games in hand.
The Winterhawks, who beat host Everett 4-1 on Saturday, entertain the Silvertips on Tuesday. Portland, which beat visiting Seattle 5-2 on Friday, is two games into a stretch of 15 straight games against U.S. Division opponents.
The Blazers will play their final two home games before the Christmas break this week. The Swift Current Broncos (12-13-5) are scheduled to play at Interior Savings Centre on Tuesday, with the Prince George Cougars (9-14-4) here on Friday.
Last night, Seattle forward Justin Hickman broke a 1-1 tie at 16:52 of the third period as the Thunderbirds (14-13-1) won for the second time in two nights. They had beaten the visiting Kelowna Rockets 4-2 on Saturday.
Latvian forward Robert Lipsbergs scored twice for Seattle, the last one into an empty net. He has 13 goals in his freshman season.
The Thunderbirds nursed a 1-0 lead well into the third period before winger Joe Kornelsen scored his first goal of the season for Kamloops. He hadn't scored in 18 games with the Calgary Hitmen before being traded to the Blazers. He now has played seven games with Kamloops.
Seattle goaltender Brandon Glover, a one-time teammate of Kornelsen's in Calgary, finished with 30 saves, two more than the Blazers' Taran Kozun.
On Saturday night, defenceman Tyler Bell of the Blazers scored his first goal of the season - and second in 81 regular-season games - with 24.5 seconds left in the first period to launch the Teddy Bears from the stands.
The Warriors came back in the second period with goals from defence partners Morgan Rielly and Travis Brown, the latter shorthanded with 12.3 seconds left in the frame. That was the third shorthanded goal the Blazers have surrendered this season.
The Blazers forged a tie when centre Colin Smith got his 21st goal at 5:46 of the third period, beating goaltender Justin Paulic, who made 29 saves.
The Warriors won it on shootout goals from forwards Justin Kirsch and Brayden Point.
"We just aren't getting sustained effort. Not even now, after a week off," stated Kamloops head coach Guy Charron, whose club had five days without a game last week, a rarity this season. "You can't ask any more from Smitty. But there are others . . . consequently we have to shorten the bench. We have some guys who haven't scored in some time. They have to go the net and create things."
The Blazers' recent goal-scoring woes continued in Kent.
The Blazers are 5-8-1 in the 14 games since their 14-game winning streak ended with a 3-0 loss in Kelowna on Nov. 1. Kamloops has scored 30 goals in those 14 games, with 11 of them coming in two games - victories over Portland (6-4) and the Prince George Cougars (5-4, shootout). In 11 of those games, the Blazers have scored two or fewer goals.
After playing the Cougars on Friday, the Blazers will head to Vancouver for a Sunday date with the Giants. Then it's into Alberta for four games in five nights before their Christmas break begins.
JUST NOTES: Canada's national junior team is expected to start issuing invitations today to its selection camp. The final list is likely to include at least 38 names, with 14 or 15 of those from the WHL. Linemates JC Lipon and Smith, who are tied for the WHL scoring lead, may be on the list. . . . On Sunday, the Blazers scratched F Dylan Willick (ankle), F Cole Ully (mononucleosis), D Jordan Thomson (ill) and D Ryan Rehill. . . . Seattle F Tyler Alos, 19, has been shut down with post-concussion syndrome and isn't expected to play again this season. . . . The Blazers arrived in Seattle at 4 a.m. . . . Both teams were playing for the third time in as many nights. . . . The attendance on Saturday was 5,053. . . .The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Brown: Plays in Rielly's shadow but was terrific; 2. Bell: Assertive and a goal; 3. Paulic: More than solid. . . .The Warriors hung out in Kamloops on Sunday and left for Prince George this morning. They will play the Cougars there on Tuesday. . . .The OHL's London Knights are on a 15-game winning streak after beating the host Mississauga Steelheads 4-3 in a game that took a 19-round shootout to decide. That eclipses the Blazers and the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads for the longest winning streak in the CHL this season.
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