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Loewen sparks Blazers with penalty, goal

Kamloops ends three-game skid with win over Victoria
January 1, 2016 7:56 P.M.
Jermaine Loewen of the Kamloops Blazers celebrates after his goal snapped a 1-1 tie with the Victoria Royals on Friday at the Sandman Centre. (Photo: Kelvin Harrison)

Jermaine Loewen and the Kamloops Blazers opened 2016 by starting one streak and ending another on Friday afternoon at the Sandman Centre.
Loewen, the 17-year-old sophomore left winger from Arborg, Man., via Jamaica, scored for a second straight game and the Blazers ended a three-game losing skid with a 4-1 victory over the Victoria Royals.
The Blazers, who had dropped three straight one-goal decisions, including a 3-2 loss to the Royals here on Wednesday, are right back at it tonight as they play host to the Everett Silvertips. Kamloops’ fifth game in seven nights — and third in four nights — is scheduled to begin at 7 o’clock.
As strange as it sounds, it may have been a penalty to Loewen that got the Blazers going yesterday. That’s saying something, because of the WHL’s 22 teams only the Silvertips have fewer penalty minutes than the Blazers.
But with the score tied 1-1 at 6:04 of the second period, Loewen thundered down the left wing and took the puck hard to the Victoria net. The puck and goaltender Coleman Vollrath ended up across the goal line, while the net came off its moorings. Loewen thought he had broken the tie but instead was penalized for goaltender interference.
“I thought the penalty on Jermaine really motivated our group . . . by him driving to the net,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said. “We didn’t think he deserved the penalty; we did a good job killing it and then we scored shortly afterwards. It was kind of fitting that Jermaine got the goal.”
A couple of shifts after getting out of the penalty box, Loewen was parked by the Victoria net and backhanded a second rebound over Vollrath to legally break that 1-1 tie at 13:05.
“My intention was to get that goal back and to really focus on the little details,” Loewen said. “So I just went hard to the net. It was good to get that goal.”
Loewen, who has become a real crowd favourite, played 37 games last season with nary a point. This season, he has eight points, including five goals, in 34 games.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is easily the team’s most improved player. He was a force in Wednesday’s loss and was rewarded by being moved up the depth chart to play alongside centre Nick Chyzowski and whomever Hay chose to put on the right side.
“I juggled things up after last game,” Hay said. “We knew the importance of this game. We have played a lot of games here and we haven’t had the success that we wanted to since we’ve come back (from the Christmas break). The guys were really determined and really committed tonight.”
After the Wednesday setback Hay was perturbed with what he felt was a lack of competitiveness by his team. That is an issue he addressed on Thursday and again prior to yesterday’s game.
“I thought we played like we had an excuse,” Hay said, referring to the absences of forward Gage Quinney and defencemen Dallas Valentine, Dawson Davidson and Patrik Maier, “instead of saying, ‘Hey this is what we have, let’s dig in.’
“After the first seven minutes we settled in and we were really competitive,” Hay added. “We did a really good job checking and we were able to create scoring chances by funnelling pucks to the net and staying there and creating rebounds and scrums.”
Just 59 seconds after Loewen scored, and with the Blazers on a power play, defenceman Ryan Rehill scored his fifth goal on a booming slapshot from the point. His defence partner, 15-year-old Luke Zazula, picked up an assist on the play for his first WHL point. It came in his second game. Later, his teammates award him the hardhat as their player of the game.
Zazula, from Langley, made his WHL debut on Wednesday and hasn’t look at all out of place. He will play again tonight against Everett and maybe — maybe — on Wednesday against the visiting Prince George Cougars if, Hay said, “I can twist somebody’s arm.” The hangup is that Zazula’s club team from the Delta Hockey Academy is to open a tournament in Kelowna on Wednesday.
“It’s nice to see him come in and be accepted,” Hay said. “Players want to play with good players and he’s a good player. He’s going to be a really good, steady player for us in the future.”
During his first two games, Zazula has taken a regular shift and also seen power-play time, all the while paired with veteran Ryan Rehill, 20.
Asked if he expected to play as much as he has, Zazula replied: “No, not at all. Most 15-year-olds I watched last (season) got, like, a couple of shifts a period . . . maybe. I wasn’t expecting that much. It feels really good.”
He also has enjoyed playing alongside Rehill.
“He’s a good defenceman. I can learn a lot from him,” Zazula said.
With a smile, he admitted that looking at the Royals and seeing freshman forwards Matt Phillips, who is listed at 5-foot-6, and Dante Hannoun, at 5-foot-5, also helped.
“That made me feel a little more at home,” Zazula said, as his parents posed for photos with Hay.
The Royals are renowned for their quick starts — they had outscored the opposition 47-28 in first periods going into this one — but it was the Blazers who got on the board first.
After Kamloops goaltender Connor Ingram took a goal away from centre Alex Forsberg at one end, the Blazers went down the ice and left-winger Collin Shirley scored his team-high 23rd goal on a rebound at 16:33.
The Royals tied it with 51.6 seconds left in the period when centre Tyler Soy, from the right wing, hit an onrushing Jack Walker on the left side and he beat Ingram before the goaltender could get across the crease.
Still, the Blazers had to like the first period, especially that last 15 minutes. Outshot 7-1 early, they evened it up at 14 before period’s end.
By game’s end — forward Matt Revel scored into an empty net for the home team’s fourth goal — Kamloops held a 42-30 edge in shots.
Ingram, with 29 saves, was terrific yet again.
As Hay said: “He’s been really good. He’s been like this since early in the (season). He just continues on. He looks very solid and very confident.”
The Blazers improved to 18-14-4. They remain in possession of the Western Conference’s first wild-card playoff spot and now are just two points behind the sixth-place Spokane Chiefs in the Western Conference standings. The Chiefs also dealt forward Adam Helewka, their leading scorer, to the Red Deer Rebels on Friday, getting back forwards Wyatt Johnson, 20, and Eli Zummack, 15, and two bantam draft picks — a second-round selection in 2016 and a fifth-rounder in 2017.
The Royals (23-13-3) are second in the conference as they go to Kelowna to meet the first-place Rockets (27-10-2) tonight. The Rockets lost 3-1 in Everett yesterday after the Silvertips won 2-1 in OT in Kelowna on Wednesday.
The Silvertips (21-12-2) now lead the U.S. Division and are fourth in the conference.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,646. . . . Kamloops was 1-for-3 on the power play; Victoria was 0-for-2. . . . The Blazers’ penalty killers, who are No. 1 in the WHL, are 12-for-12 over their past seven games. . . . The Blazers scratched Quinney, Valentine and Davidson, all of whom have undisclosed injuries and won’t play tonight either. They also scratched Maier, who is with Slovakia at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki. . . . The Blazers are bringing back D Travis Verveda, 18, to help them out. He had four assists in 28 games with them last season and now is playing for the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. He is expected to practise with the Blazers on Monday. . . . Maier will take a few days off after playing for Slovakia at the World Junior Championship. The Blazers are to visit the Portland Winterhawks on Jan. 9 and 10, then will travel to Kimberley for a break before going on to Medicine Hat to play the Tigers on Jan. 13. Maier will fly into Cranbrook and join the team there. . . . The Royals scratched D Joe Hicketts, the Kamloops native who is with Canada at the WJC, D Scott Walford, F Ty Westgard and F Tyler Thompson. . . . The Royals now are 4-2-0 against the Blazers this season. The teams will conclude the season series in Victoria, Feb. 19 and 20.
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