By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers, their roster a shadow of it what it was during a 14-game October winning streak, went into the Christmas break on a three-game losing streak.
They also have been usurped from the top spot in the WHL’s standings, a rung now occupied by the Portland Winterhawks.
The Blazers’ most-recent loss occurred Saturday night when they dropped a 7-6 overtime decision to the Tigers in Medicine Hat. The Winterhawks (28-5-1), meanwhile, moved three points ahead of the Blazers (25-9-4) when they dumped the Silvertips 3-2 in Everett on Sunday. Since losing 6-4 in Kamloops on Nov. 16, the Winterhawks are 12-1-0; the Blazers, since that game, are 7-4-3.
On Saturday, the Tigers (15-18-2) won on defenceman Dylan Busenius’s power-play goal at 3:01 of OT, the score coming 44 seconds after left-winger Tim Bozon was penalized for tripping.
It was perhaps fitting that the Blazers should lose to a power-play goal, because discipline was an issue in the last three games.
The Edmonton Oil Kings were 1-for-5 in a 4-2 victory on Wednesday, while the Lethbridge Hurricanes went 3-for-10 in winning 4-2 on Friday.
“Whether it’s undisciplined play or whatever it may be . . . we addressed the penalties after the game in Lethbridge,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “Sometimes it takes a couple of calls against you early and all of a sudden the kids get frustrated.”
The Tigers were 3-for-8 on the PP, and that included a major penalty to Kamloops forward Aspen Sterzer, who was ejected at 7:20 of the third period for a check to the head of forward Trevor Cox.
When Medicine Hat defenceman Ty Stanton scored at 1:50 of the third period, the Tigers had a 6-4 lead. But the Blazers tied it on a shorthanded goal by forward Matt Needham at 11:26 and an unassisted score by defenceman Joel Edmundson, who also had three assists, at 14:34.
Stanton, who went into the game with a goal and two assists in 21 outings, led the Tigers a goal and three assists. Elgin Pearce, with two, Curtis Valk, Jayden Hart and Cole Sanford also scored for the Tigers.
Brendan Ranford, Bozon, Joe Kornelsen and Rob Trzonkowski had the Blazers’ other goals.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave stopped 27 shots as he was beaten seven times for the second time in his career. He also gave up seven in a 7-5 loss to the host Vancouver Giants on Feb. 3.
The Blazers go into the break having played 38 games, more than any other WHL team. When play resumes on Dec. 27, They will be without right-winger JC Lipon (Canada) and defenceman Marek Hrbas (Czech Republic), both of whom are with national junior teams, and defenceman Jordan Thomson, who will be with Team West at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Quebec.
But Kamloops should get back Dylan Willick (broken ankle) and Cole Ully (mononucleosis), two of their top six forwards.
“The depth isn’t there,” Charron said, alluding to the roster he has had to use for the last few games.
After the break, the Blazers will have 18 home and 16 away games remaining. And they won’t have to travel outside their conference.
“Our schedule has been overloaded, there’s no doubt,” Charron said. “We have to take that into consideration to some extent. We never look at it to find excuses . . . it is what it is.
“But the schedule should favour us to some extent in the second half. There will be less travel.”
The Blazers will reconvene in Kelowna on Dec. 26 and play the Rockets there the following night. Kamloops next plays at home on Dec. 29 when the Giants are here.
The Rockets (23-10-2), who had a six-game winning streak snapped with a 6-2 loss to the Hitmen in Calgary yesterday, are third in the Western Conference. They are six points behind the Blazers with three games in hand.
“It’s a tough league and it’s a tough conference and everyone is winning,” Charron said, “and all of a sudden you look in your rearview mirror and (the Rockets) are right there, even after the stretch of games we had at the beginning of the year.
“It illustrates how competitive the league is.”
JUST NOTES: Edmundson enjoyed the first four-point game of his career; in fact, he had never had three points in a game. He has 57 points in 162 regular-season games. . . . Sterzer almost certainly will draw a minimum two-game suspension, if only because he is a repeat offender. He was playing his fourth game after serving a one-game suspension for a check to the head during a Dec. 7 game against the visiting Prince George Cougars.
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