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Oil Kings enjoy Hockey Day in Kamloops

Well-travelled Blazers blanked by Edmonton
February 6, 2016 10:27 P.M.

While the Kamloops Blazers were touring around the Pacific Northwest, wondering what they had done to anger the WHL schedule maker, the Edmonton Oil Kings were enjoying all that the City of Kamloops has to offer.
After beating the host Kootenay Ice 6-3 on Tuesday night, the Oil Kings went home and then headed for Kamloops on Thursday, arriving here that evening.
The Blazers, meanwhile, were losing three games in the U.S. Division, finishing up with a 4-3 setback at the hands of the Everett Silvertips on Friday night. The Blazers arrived back home on Saturday, about 3 a.m.
Twelve hours later, they began arriving at Sandman Place to face the well-rested Oil Kings in a game whose starting time had been moved up two hours to accommodate television.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Oil Kings cruised to a 4-0 victory at the Sandman Centre on Saturday evening?
“That’s our easy excuse, I guess, and there is some legitimacy to that,” said Kamloops assistant coach Terry Bangen, who for the first time this season filled in for head coach Don Hay in the post-game gathering with the media. The Blazers’ braintrust held a lengthy meeting with the players in the team’s dressing room.
“But more than physical fatigue was mental and emotional fatigue,” Bangen continued after the Blazers had been blanked for the first time this season. “The three games on the road . . . every game we got behind early and had to chase the game. We weren’t able to catch up and even though it was a good effort to come back in all of those games, at the end of the game you have expended a lot of energy, used up a lot of emotion, used up a lot of mental strength and you’ve got nothing to show for it.
“Tonight, despite everybody’s best effort and what they wanted to do, obviously it didn’t happen. Then frustration set in and things just went from bad to worse.”
The Blazers badly needed a goal in this one, especially in the early going. One goal would have brought the season’s largest crowd — 5,673 — into the game and could have provided the home side with an energy boost.
But that didn’t happen.
“We kept saying that ‘we have to give these guys something to cheer for,’ ” Bangen said. “If we could have got a goal, even in the third period . . .”
The Blazers had plenty of chances in what was a scrambly first period, one in which Edmonton gave up far more scoring chances than head coach Steve Hamilton liked.
“We talked about not playing in front of them as much and managing the puck differently,” Hamilton replied, when asked what he talked about with his guys in the first intermission. “Our game had to be about a long rink. I thought the first period we certainly played to their advantage. I thought it was a dangerous period and that could have gotten away from us.”
As it was, the Oil Kings got out of it with a 1-0 lead after Swiss centre Dario Meyer took advantage of a fortuitous bounce off Blazers defenceman Ondrej Vala in tight and deposited the puck into an open side of the Kamloops net at 11:37.
As the second period progressed, more and more of the play was in the Blazers’ zone and it became obvious that they soon would be running on fumes.
The Oil Kings took a 2-0 lead at 4:34 when right-winger Brett Pollock scored his 20th of the season, snapping a shot over goaltender Connor Ingram’s right shoulder and just under the cross-bar.
When the third period began, the Blazers trailed by that 2-0 score. But they just didn’t have the energy and were able to muster only six shots on goaltender Patrick Dea, who finished with 24 saves, six fewer than Ingram, as he recorded his first shutout of the season.
“By design,” Hamilton said, “in the second and third we wanted to limit their opportunities . . . and Patrick was excellent. He gave us a great start.”
Defenceman Ben Carroll put this one on ice with a power-play goal at 9:18 of the third period, his one-timer from the left side giving Ingram no opportunity to make the save.
Carroll, who also had an assist, then scored a shorthanded empty-netter at 18:10 for his fourth goal of the season. He has 20 points this season, six of them in his last two games.
You can bet the Blazers were especially disappointed that they weren’t able to finish off what was a terrific hockey weekend with a victory, what with Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada and all that came with it. However, it’s also interesting that the schedule maker had them on the road, meaning the players weren’t able to take part in any of the festivities.
“I think the players really missed out,” Bangen said. “The city and everybody really got caught up in it. All of the events were really well attended. Today, the weather co-operated. It was a great event. It was just unfortunate that we weren’t able to finish it off well.”
As for a schedule that had them play four games in five nights with another one coming Monday afternoon, Bangen admitted that “it can be frustrating at times.”
“But,” he added, “we try and look at it as every team goes through it and it’s something you have to deal with. It’s not easy. It’s tough. But that’s how you get better.”
The Blazers had gone into the game with a 2-0-0 advantage in the season series. The second of those victories — 2-1 — occurred on Jan. 17 in Edmonton, when the Blazers got in a day early and enjoyed a day off while the Oil Kings were playing the Hitmen in Calgary.
“Yeah,” Hamilton said, “Kamloops had a night in our (town) before we got there.”
Yes, he was smiling.
The Blazers, who entertain the Hitmen on Monday, 2 p.m., are 1-7-1 in their last nine outings. They are 23-22-8 and tied with the Portland Winterhawks (26-25-2) for the 10-team Western Conference’s last two playoff spots. They are only three points ahead of the hard-charging Tri-City Americans(24-25-3), who beat the visiting Spokane Chiefs 4-1 last night and have at least a point in each of their last five games (4-0-1).
Meanwhile, the Oil Kings (23-23-7) are tied with the Regina Pats for the Eastern Conference’s last two spots, but they hold a nine-point lead over the Swift Current Broncos and Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I think we’ve kind of embraced who we are a little bit,” Hamilton said. “That’s kind of been our message throughout the season . . . being harder to play against, a little bit more determined, a little bit more competitive.”
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance of 5,673 was the sixth-largest crowd to attend a Blazers game in the facility. The largest announced crowd — 5,820 — watched the Blazers beat the Prince George Cougars 5-1 on March 14, 2014. . . . The Oil Kings were 1-for-2 on the power play; the Blazers were 0-for-5, with three of those coming in the game’s last four minutes. . . . Kamloops D Ryan Rehill sat out his sixth straight game, while the Blazers also scratched F Erik Miller and F Spencer Bast. . . . The Oil Kings scratched G Alec Dillon, who is out with a long-term injury, D Chance Patterson, D Jordan Dawson, F Kobe Mohr and F Branden Klatt. . . . The Oil Kings didn’t take part in any of the Hockey Day in Canada activities, but Hamilton said they did “soak it all in” on Friday. . . . Former Blazers F Darcy Tucker, who played on the three Memorial Cup-championship teams, addressed the team before the game. He was in the Blazers dressing room, along with the trophy. . . . Blazers captain Matt Needham played in his 300th regular-season game. He has 231 points, including 79 goals. His father, Mike, played in 176 games with the Blazers (1987-90), putting up 243 points, including 115 goals. Mike, of course, is the Blazers’ lead assistant coach.
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JM Birk says:
February 7, 2016 09:29am

The fact that every team has these scheduling nightmares doesnt make it right or fair. The coaches should be ragging on the WHL schedule maker not the players. Even the NHL doesnt do 4 games in five nights


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