When you’re sitting atop the WHL scoring race, you know where to go on the ice when the score is 1-1.
Tyson Baillie of the Kelowna Rockets went to the net Sunday night and was the beneficiary of a terrific play by linemate Kole Lind that resulted in a 2-1 victory over the Kamloops Blazers at the Sandman Centre.
Baillie, who has a WHL-leading 59 points, broke a 1-1 tie with his 24th goal at 6:27 of the third period. Only forward Jon
Martin of the Swift Current Broncos has more goals, with 26. Baillie and Martin are tied for the league lead in game-winning goals, each with six.
“Go to the dirty areas,” said Baillie, who scored the winner while standing in the Kamloops crease with three Blazers — four counting goaltender Connor Ingram — in the vicinity. Baillie, who had the winner here in a 4-3 OT victory earlier in the season, had his stick on the ice and Lind, who carried the puck into the Kamloops zone and went around the back of the net, put it right on the tape.
Baillie said head coach Brad Ralph talks about winning “the battle in the blue paint” and, Baillie said, “I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
While the visitors won the game in the third period, the Blazers had an excellent chance to take control in the first period when the Rockets took four straight minor penalties.
The Blazers’ 15th-ranked power play was able to score just the one goal against the ninth-ranked penalty-killing unit, that coming after forward Justin Kirkland was sent off for a hit from behind on Kamloops defenceman Dallas Valentine.
The goal came at 17:24, with Garrett Pilon, who was on a point on the power play, skating in and forcing goaltender Jackson Whistle to make a left-pad save. Forward Nick Chyzowski got there to deposit the rebound. He’s got 10 goals in 33 games; prior to this season, he had scored nine times in 127 games.
“We had four power plays in the first period and came away with one goal at the end,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said. “That was our opportunity to get the lead early and play with the lead and extend the lead and we weren’t able to do it. We didn’t execute as well as we needed to do and they did a good job killing.”
Hay felt his defencemen didn’t show enough intensity when it came to getting pucks to the net.
“In the power play we scored on and the next power play,” he said, “we were able to get more pucks to the net.”
Kelowna tied the game at 4:22 of the second period when Lind, a native of Shaunavon, Sask., who isn’t eligible for the NHL draft until 2017, one-timed a cross-ice pass from defenceman Joe Gatenby into an open side.
“We’re missing some of our depth right now,” Baillie said, “but a lot of guys are stepping up and playing more minutes than they usually do and doing a good job of it. It’s been good.”
Among the missing are forwards Rourke Chartier (Canada), Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic) and Calvin Thurkauf (Switzerland), all of whom are playing in the World Junior Championship in Helsinki.
With those players missing, Baillie said it’s important that he stay within himself, even if he is the WHL’s leading scorer.
“I try not to do too much or stay out there too long,” said the 20-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
It’s easier to stick to that game plan when, as he said, “All four lines were going . . . we had a little rink rust in the first period but after that I thought we had a good game.”
It was the first team back for both teams after the Christmas break and it was that kind of game. As Hay said, both teams seemed to go in spurts, but never both at the same time.
The teams will meet again tonight in Kelowna, where the Rockets have won their last eight games.
The Blazers, who are 0-3-1 against Kelowna this season, will be without Valentine and centre Gage Quinney, who didn’t play last night after being injured in a Saturday practice.
Hay said Quinney had yet to see a doctor because of it being Christmas weekend. He and Valentine are expected to be seen by doctors today.
Valentine left after the hit from Kirkland at 17:10 of the first period. Referees Sean Raphael and Mark Pearce discussed the play for two or three minutes before giving Kirkland a minor penalty.
Once Valentine got off the ice, the Blazers defender, who plays a big game in his zone, went directly to the dressing room. While he appeared to hit his head on the boards when he fell, Hay said Valentine’s injury wasn’t concussion-related.
Hay will have two options tonight when he goes to add a defenceman in Valentine’s place. Conner McDonald, a 16-year-old freshman who has played in 16 games, was a healthy scratch last night. The Blazers also have Luke Zazula, a fourth-round selection in the 2015 bantam draft, in camp with them this week. From Langley, he had a terrific training camp with the Blazers before returning to the Delta Hockey Academy.
Asked if Zazula might make his WHL debut in Kelowna, Hay replied: “Let me sleep on it.”
The Blazers, having played a league-low 33 games, began a stretch of give games in seven nights with this one. They will return from Kelowna to face the Victoria Royals on Wednesday (7 p.m.) and Friday (2 p.m.), with the Everett Silvertips here on Saturday, at 7 p.m.
The Blazers (17-12-4) are sixth in the 10-team Western Conference, two points behind the Spokane Chiefs (18-13-4) and three ahead of the Portland Winterhawks (17-16-1). The Blazers hold down the conference’s first wild-card playoff spot.
The Rockets (26-9-1) continue to lead the overall standings by three points over the Lethbridge Hurricanes (25-11-0).
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 4,039, although, due to the inclement weather, there were far fewer than that in the seats. . . . The usual volunteer staff of more than 40 was cut in half by weather-related no-shows. . . . While Kamloops was 1-for-5 on the power play, the Rockets were 0-for-1. . . . The Blazers’ other scratch was D Patrik Maier, who is with Slovakia at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki. . . . The Rockets also were without F Rodney Southam (undisclosed injury) and D Cal Foote (one-game WHL suspension). . . . With Quinney out, Garrett Pilon moved up to play between Collin Shirley and Deven Sideroff. . . . Ingram finished with 28 saves, while Whistle stopped 25. . . . After tonight’s game in Kelowna, the Blazers and Rockets won’t face each other again until March 4. . . . With the second part of the season having started, the home teams now are wearing white uniforms. . . . The Blazers also have brought in F Brodi Stuart for the week. Like Zazula, he is from Langley, plays at the Delta academy and was a fourth-round selection in 2015. . . .
Darryl Sydor, who owns a piece of the Blazers, was back behind the bench with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in a 3-1 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. An assistant coach with the Wild, Sydor was charged with impaired driving-related offences in August and later pleaded guilty. He has been in rehab and missed training camp and the start of the NHL season. When he returned to the Wild, he worked practices and was in the press box for games. He has yet to travel with the team this season.
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