Stretch prepared to pay price to win

C.J. Stretch is the grey beard of this edition of the Kamloops Blazers.

Minus the grey, the 20-year-old Californian even looks the part.

Stretch, who set the WHL team's franchise record for games played earlier this season, has been working on his playoff beard for a while now. These days, some of his more hirsute teammates - and even some who aren't - are trying to follow suit.

"Me or Hanesy," Stretch said Wednesday when asked who on the Blazers might end up with the 'best' beard. He was referring to teammate Ryan Hanes, 17.

Then, with a chuckle, Stretch added: "Ryan Hanes has been growing a beard since he was about 14."

It's not like the Vancouver Giants, against whom the Blazers open a first-round playoff series on Friday, need a beard to be able to identify Stretch. After all, he burned them for a team-high 13 points in eight regular-season games. So he knows what to expect when the puck drops for Game 1 at Pacific Coliseum.

But he shrugs it off.

"They're physical with everyone," Stretch said. "That's their style of play."

There are those in the Blazers organization who feel the Giants were a bit too physical with Stretch on Saturday when Vancouver, playing at home, scored a 6-5 shootout victory. Stretch came out of that one with a goal, two assists and a bloody nose.

"My nose was bleeding a little bit," Stretch explained. "I made a move on (defenceman Kevin) Connauton and one of their guys came up and tried to hit me. I saw a blue jersey back door, so I popped him the puck before I got hit. I think it was a bit of a high hit."

There wasn't a penalty called on the play.

Asked if the lack of a call against the Giants in a game being played in Vancouver is something to be expected, Stretch just smiled.

Coming off a regular season in which he led the Blazers in goals (30), assists (51) and points (81), Stretch knows that he is The Man in these parts. With his WHL career winding down, as much as he relishes the role, he knows the playoffs are a whole new season.

"Everyone can be a threat in playoffs," he said. "Regular-season points don't matter. Anyone can be a hero.

"But I've played a lot of games and have put up some numbers so . . . I enjoy the role. It's fun to play."

In the season series, the Giants went 6-1-0-1, which might lead one to believe they dominated the Blazers. However, four of the games went to overtime or a shootout, meaning the Blazers can say they were 2-2-1-3 in the eight games.

The teams have met three times since the Jan. 10 trade deadline, when the Blazers continued their youth movement. In two of those games, the Blazers phsically dominated the Giants, losing 2-1 in a shootout and winning 6-1.

"We've been close to being a matchup with them for a while," Stretch said. "The last month and a half, we felt we could play them or Tri-City or Everett, so we always wanted to play hard against those teams.

"We wanted to make it hard for them to play against us in the future and now we got the matchup that we wanted."

Defenceman Bronson Maschmeyer feels that having a younger team is an advantage "sometimes."

"You don't necessarily know all the players in the league as well," Maschmeyer, 18, said. "You go out every night and it doesn't matter who you play. Guys are more energized because they get more opportunities. It's just fun to play."

And Maschmeyer, who was acquired from the Giants prior to the start of this season, is looking forward to having some fun - especially considering all of the ex-Giants with the Blazers, from general manager Scott Bonner, to trainer Colin Robinson, to fellow defencemen Ryan Funk and Linden Saip.

"It's a little more motivation," Maschmeyer said. "There are a lot of guys who want to win this series and I think that is going to play a key part. Any extra motivation is good.

"When you come into the playoffs you're going to be energized anyway; this just adds a little bit more."

Funk is the Blazers' captain now, while Maschmeyer is an alternate.

"We have a hard-working team and it was nice to get that leadership role," said Maschmeyer, who is from Bruderheim, Alta. "I took that to heart. I want to help on and off the ice."

Stretch also wears an 'A' with this team. And he really wants to do well in these playoffs.

"This is the last kick at the can in junior," said Stretch, who is a point-a-game playoff producer despite the Blazers being 0-12 in playoff games during his time with them. "This year is the most ready we've been in my five years in this organization.

"This year, I think we have a really good chance and I think we all believe we can beat them."

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