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Needham, Quinney lead Blazers to victory

Ice no match for locals on this night
By Gregg Drinnan
December 1, 2015 10:22 P.M.

The WHL game had been over for about 15 minutes on Tuesday night, when the youngest coach in the league walked towards the man who is the elder statesman.
“How’s it going down there?” asked Don Hay, 61, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, as he stuck out a hand.
“It’s a battle,” replied Luke Pierce, the 32-year-old head coach of the Kootenay Ice, as they shook hands.
The Blazers had just beaten the Ice 5-1 at the Sandman Centre, giving Hay his 638th regular-season coaching victory. Pierce, a native of Merritt who is in his first season with the Ice, is stuck on six.
“Can I call you tomorrow?” Pierce asked.
Hay nodded, more than willing to share his coaching knowledge with one of major junior hockey’s bright young minds.
Last night, while he may have had learning on his mind, Pierce was feeling the affects of yet another loss. He was trying to stay positive, but the immediate future looks about as bright as a Tuesday in December at 10 p.m.
The Ice is 6-20-2 and now has lost four in a row. Its roster has been ravaged by injuries, with its top two forwards, Luke Philp and Jaedon Descheneau, out long-term, and defenceman Tyler King, a 37-point man last season, yet to play this season because of off-season knee surgery.
“The guys are working hard but fatigue sets in,” Pierce said. “Guys are playing over their heads a little bit . . . but we’ve got to get some bodies back.”
Two forwards acquired in trades on Sunday — Jesse Zaharichuk, from the Blazers, and Austin Gray, from the Portland Winterhawks — made their Kootenay debuts last night and will provide some relief. Zaharichuk, who had 13 points in 17 games with the Blazers, had five or six solid chances but wasn’t able to beat his roommate from last season, goaltender Connor Ingram.
It was another one of those nights for the Ice, who could only beat Ingram once on 26 shots.
Still, it wasn’t until the second half of the second period that the Blazers were able to put this one away as the Ice hung around like a bad cold. But two goals in the period’s second half put the home side in control and it cruised home.
At game’s end, the Blazers had a 39-26 edge in shots, but had this been a shinny game there would have been a trade or two made during the second intermission, you know, in an attempt to even things up.
“If you play the right way, you are going to give yourself a real good chance,” Hay said. “I thought for the most part we played the right way . . . meaning how we practise. We practise a certain way and that’s how we want to play as a team. When we played a hard game, we had success; when we backed off a little bit, we gave them the opportunity to get involved in the game.”
When the Blazers scored two goals 41 seconds apart in the first period it looked as though this one would be a rout. First, right-winger Matt Revel snapped a 20-footer from the slot past Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin at 6:54, then centre Matt Needham corralled a loose puck in the slot and went in to provide his guys with a 2-0 edge.
It looked then as though the Ice was going to get taken apart. But give the Eastern Conference’s last-place team some credit. It hung tough and made it interesting when defenceman Cale Fleury got to the Kamloops net and was able to beat Ingram for a power-play goal just 13 seconds into the second period.
But a shorthanded goal by Kamloops centre Gage Quinney — four of his 12 scores have come on the penalty kill — signalled the beginning of the end. Ice defenceman Bryan Allbee turned over the puck in the neutral zone, Quinney 1-on-1 with Fleury and then cut across the slot to beat Hoflin for a 3-1 lead at 10:07.
Any chance the Ice had to stay in this one evaporated at 18:45 when Blazers defenceman Ryan Rehill rifled a point shot to the top left corner for a power-play goal and a 4-1 edge.
“The goal at the end of the second period, the power-play goal, was a big goal for us,” Hay said. “Then to come out early in the third period and get another power-play goal was very important.”
That was Needham’s second goal of the game, and his seventh of the season.
“At times we got away from the way we want to play,” Hay said. “We have to understand that we have to be mature when we play against all teams. If we want to become a good team, we want to play the same way all the time, no matter who we’re playing.
“That has to come from your top two lines. The Quinney line and the Needham line have to lead the way in our style of play and how we want to play.”
Those two lines did just that in this one. They controlled the play, for the most part, and scored enough to provide the victory.
Quinney finished with a goal and two assists, while his linemates, Revel and Shirley, had a point each. Needham had two goals and an assist, with right-winger Deven Sideroff drawing three assists and Matt Campese getting one.
Meanwhile, Pierce is just trying to keep his guys in the proper frame of mind.
“You try to keep it positive if you can without losing sight of there being some lessons to be learned,” he said. “You want to try and protect your young guys as much as you can, but you’ve got Max Patterson and Noah Philp and Jared Legien . . . they’re playing against some pretty elite hockey players every single night. It’s trial by fire a little bit . . .”
It is and last night the Ice got burned again. In time, though, the young players will learn how to put out those fires.
“They’re starting to understand the details and discipline and how important the structure is,” Pierce said. “It’s hard to see it right now but it’s going to help us in the long run. The one thing about when you’re in hell, the only thing you can do is keep going. Right?”
The Ice will keep going tonight in Kelowna where they are scheduled to lead the Rockets who, at 19-6-0, are atop the WHL’s overall standings.
The Blazers (12-9-3) remain fourth in the B.C. Division, three points behind the Prince George Cougars (14-9-2), who beat the visiting Portland Winterhawks, 3-2, last night. The Winterhawks will play in Prince George again tonight, then travel to Kamloops for a Friday date with the Blazers.
Kamloops is 7-0-2 at home since it was beaten 4-2 here by the Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 23.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,194. . . . That included a contingent of Pierce supporters. He said he had “lots of friends and family” on hand, including a busload from Merritt. “I’m so proud to be from Merritt,” he said. “I wish we could have given them a better show tonight.” . . . Patterson, who is from Kamloops, was the first Kootenay player on the ice for the pre-game warmup, His teammates held back and he ended up doing a couple of circuits and firing a couple of shots before anyone joined him. . . . The Blazers scratched D Dallas Valentine for a sixth straight game, along with F Erik Miller and D Conner McDonald. . . . The Ice also was without F River Beattie and F Zak Zborosky, both out with injuries, and F Shane Allan, who completed a four-game WHL suspension.
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There’s more WHL news with Taking Note at TheCoachesSite.com.
While you’re there, feel free to download a copy of A Coaching Life, an eBook comprising stories about eight prominent coaches, including Don Hay of the Kamloops Blazers and Ryan Huska of the AHL’s Stockton Heat.

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