Don Hay, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, wasn’t at all enthralled with the checking of his team in a 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Portland Winterhawks on Friday night.
Twenty-four hours later, Hay checked his list and, well, that was about all that got checked by Kamloops as it was beaten 5-4 by the Medicine Hat Tigers at the Sandman Centre.
The Blazers, who were playing their last home game until Dec. 27, were far too lackadaisical in this one. They should have had the Tigers right where they wanted them; instead it turned out to be the other way around.
Medicine Hat was playing its fourth game in five nights — it was 0-3-0 in the first three of those. The Tigers came in having lost six in a row overall; they also had lost nine straight away from home. In their previous three games on this B.C. Division swing, they had scored a total of three goals.
We could go on, but . . .
“It’s hard to chase the game when you’re down 2-0 . . .,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said. “Then you work really hard to get back in the game and get the lead and then you give up a couple of goals.”
Hay, as his his wont, summed up the game in two sentences. Because that is exactly what happened.
The Tigers, now 8-16-3, took an early first-period lead on goals from forwards Cole Sanford, who is from Vernon, and Max Gerlach, who is from Flower Mound, Texas.
The Blazers cut into that lead when left-winger Jermaine Loewen had the carom of a point shot by defenceman Dallas Valentine hit him and beat goaltender Mack Shields with 25.6 seconds left in the period. Yes, it was the Teddy Bear goal.
“They told me to get in front of the net so I went in front of the net and it went in off my pants,” Loewen said of his third goal this season and his second against Shields. Loewen scored No. 1 here against Shields on Oct. 28 when the latter was with the Prince George Cougars. “I got a greasy goal. It was good for the team to get us going. I’ll take that. You have to go to the net to create chances and I did my job.”
A pair of special-team goals by right-winger Deven Sideroff — he scored shorthanded after some nifty Gage Quinney pick-pocketing at 5:33 and then on the power play at 12:31 — actually gave the Blazers the lead.
But they couldn’t stand their good fortune and gave it up for good before the period ended.
Gerlach, a freshman, scored his second of the game and team-leading 13th, to tie it 3-3 at 17:58 and left-winger Mark Rassell put the Tigers back out front at 18:51.
The Tigers stretched the lead to 5-3 when Rassell got his second of the game and sixth of the season just 3:38 into the third, finishing off a quick 3-on-2 with a three-foot tap-in.
The Blazers buzzed for most of the remainder of the game, but could only get one goal, that a power-play score from left-winger Collin Shirley at 14:29.
Earlier in the period, the home side had a tremendous chance to do damage when Tigers defenceman Connor Clouston, who played the first 81 games of his WHL career in Kamloops, took an interference minor and then talked his way into an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“That was obviously a real key part of the game,” Hay said of the four-minute power play. “If you get one there you get a little more time to regroup and get the other one.”
That didn’t happen, though, as the power-play unit that finished 2-for-8 — the Tigers were 1-for-6 — just wasn’t able to solve Shields often enough.
“We were able to get the power play goal from Shirley to get within one and we had lots of pressure in the last two minutes,” Hay said.
Shields, 20, finished with 30 saves, nine more than Connor Ingram of the Blazers, who really couldn’t be faulted.
Ingram was beaten, in order, on a deflection off a defenceman, a point shot through traffic, an open-side tap-in off a nifty pass, a tap-in to finish a 2-on-1, and another tap-in, this one to conclude a 3-on-2 break.
As Loewen would say later: “We can’t give up odd-man rushes as much.”
Or, as Hay put it: “Our defensive game isn’t as good as it was a couple of weeks ago. Little things, just little details in our game, aren’t there.”
The Blazers did far too much stick-checking on this night, and that just doesn’t work against a team that skates as well as the Tigers.
“It comes down to really digging in and doing the right things, working your way through times that aren’t going well for you,” Hay said. “If you can continue to work you will find ways to have success.”
Without naming names, he then pointed a finger at . . .
“Our top players have got to be better in all areas of the game,” he said.
The Tigers, on the other hand, got big games from their top players, starting with Kamloops native Chad Butcher.
He only had one assist, giving him a team-leading 30 points, but surely he led both teams in ice time as he played more than a regular shift and was on both special teams.
Playing in his hometown, he said, is just a whole lot of fun.
“Absolutely” he looks forward to playing here and he admitted that he always looks for the games at home when the schedule comes out. “We don’t come here often, unfortunately,” he said, “but when we do it’s fun to play in front of friends and family.”
He also was smiling because, well, it’s always nice to end a six-game losing skid. Looking at how you played in this one, he was asked, how ever did you lose that many in a row?
“I don’t know,” he said, with a smile. “I’m not sure.”
The Blazers (12-10-4) now will head into the East Division for six games before the Christmas break. The trip opens Friday against the Saskatoon Blades.
Kamloops remains in possession of the Western Conference’s first wild-card playoff spot, two points ahead of Portland (13-14-0), who dropped a 4-2 decision to the Rockets in Kelowna last night.
The Blazers next will play at home on Dec. 27, against the Rockets.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 4,015. . . . The Blazers scratched F Spencer Bast, D Patrik Maier and D Conner McDonald. . . . The Tigers were without F Zach Fischer, F James Hamblin and F Steve Owre. . . . Medicine Hat has made the playoffs in each of the past 13 seasons, but now is eight points out of a playoff spot so that streak appears in jeopardy. . . . According to former Medicine Hat News sports writer Darren Steinke, Bob Ridley, the only radio voice the Tigers have had, called his 3,654th game last night. That includes regular-season, playoff and Memorial Cup games. . . . The Tigers had F Ryan Chyzowski, 15, in their lineup. He is the brother of Blazers F Nick Chyzowski, 18, who is in his third WHL season. The Tigers selected Ryan in the first round of the 2015 bantam draft. Ryan, who plays for the major midget Thompson Blazers, was pointless in two earlier games with the Tigers. . . . Both head coaches played the Grinch, though, and neither Chyzowski was in the starting lineup. . . . The Tigers are 9-2-1 against the Blazers over the past five seasons, including 5-1-0 in Kamloops.
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