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12-14-2005, 07:08 PM
by Gregg Drinnan www.kamloopsnews.ca

Christmas arrived a few days early for goaltender Mike Maniago and centre Brady Mason of the Kamloops Blazers.

Maniago, the WHL team’s No. 1 goaltender in the absence of Devan Dubnyk, stood tall and Mason counted his first WHL goal as the Blazers bounced the Swift Current Broncos 4-1 in front of an announced crowd of 4,771 fans at the Interior Savings Centre.

It was the Blazers’ 22nd home game this season — meaning they have only 14 to play. At the same time, they have yet to play 23 road games, with two of those this weekend in Prince George against the Cougars. Kamloops is fourth in the B.C. Division, one point ahead of the Cougars, who play host to the Portland Winter Hawks tonight.

This was a game the Blazers had to win, especially considering that the Broncos were missing six regular forwards, five with injuries and left-winger Thomas Raffl with the Austrian national junior team.

“For the teams I’ve coached, it has been (the worst stretch of injuries) I’ve had,” Dean Chynoweth, the Broncos’ general manager and head coach, said. “I’ve been fairly lucky … we’ve never had a large quantity or injuries of this severity.”

And during the game the Broncos lost two more forwards, as left-winger Andrew Wasmuth and right-winger Spencer McAvoy left with suspected concussions.

“They are a young team,” Mason said of the Broncos, who dressed nine skaters 17 years of age or younger. “We knew we had to go out and hit them and they would shut down because they’re so young.”

Mason got the Blazers started at 15:32 of the first period when he struck while killing a penalty.

“I was trying to get in the passing lane,” he said of challenging defenceman Michael Hengen inside the Broncos’ line. “He put his head down so I quickly moved my stick to the other side and fortunately he put it right on my stick.”

Mason said he then “had a thought (to) just go to the middle and get a shot on net and it went in.” Yes, it did, the quick wrist shot beating goaltender Kyle Moir high to the glove side.

“It felt good,” Mason said of goal No. 1, his smile as wide as the South Thompson River.

Right-winger Josh Aspenlind got the Broncos even while on a second-period power play, banking a shot off Maniago’s right pad and into the net.

Two minutes later, Kamloops right-winger Ray Macias finished a 2-on-1 with Matt Kassian by snapping a shot past Moir, who stopped 28 shots.

Still, the Broncos hung around, with Maniago, who made 21 saves, forced to make some key stops, none bigger than one off centre Daniel Rakos on a partial breakaway with 10 seconds left in the second period.

And any hope the Broncos had of a comeback ended with two penalties, the first of which resulted in Ashton Rome’s 19th goal of the season.

With the Blazers pressing and the puck bouncing near the blue line, Rakos took a one-handed swipe at it and it went over the glass. Referee Andy Thiessen fingered him for delay of game and, just 30 seconds later, Rome scored from the point and the home boys were ahead 3-1.

“That one killed us and then the retaliation penalty by Smith also killed us,” Chynoweth said.

At 13:08 of the third period, Thiessen nailed Blazers winger Moises Gutierrez for cross-checking. Before things sorted themselves out Broncos centre Zack Smith retaliated and he, too, ended up in stir.

It remained for Gutierrez to score a shorthanded empty-net goal at 19:19.

“That was better,” Dean Clark, the Blazers’ GM and head coach, said. “I wanted to get more of a team-type effort and play everybody and we played everybody a lot.

“If we want to play that high-energy game with the forwards we have to play four lines. We just can’t afford to have three (lines) going.”

Mason agreed.

“I thought it was a solid effort,” offered the 18-year-old from Westbank. “Sometimes we gave up odd-man rushes but altogether I think it was a good high-energy game. We have to play like that.”

Maniago liked what he saw, too.

“We came out really strong,” he said. “We came out flying. And that resulted in us getting chances and goals.”

Maniago will be the starter as long as Dubnyk is with Canada’s national junior team. Last night, Maniago looked like a No. 1 goaltender.

“It was good,” he said. “I felt I had a really good warmup and I felt that was a key. I felt pretty comfortable.”

That, in turn, made his teammates comfortable with him back there.

“He was good … real good,” Clark said.

JUST NOTES: Referee Andy Thiessen gave the Blazers eight of 15 minors and one of two majors … Each side was 1-for-6 on the power play … With all the injuries, the Broncos brought in three midget-aged players to help fill the void — RW Philip Gervais and C Matt Tassone from the midget AAA Fort Saskatchewan Rangers and RW Graham Telford from the junior B Creston Thunder Cats … Telford, who is from Williams Lake, got into his first WHL scrap and lost a unanimous decision to Kamloops D Keaton Ellerby, who landed three big-time punches … The Broncos last appeared in Kamloops on Dec. 3, 2003, when they whipped the Blazers, 6-2. That was Swift Current’s third straight victory here; in fact, the Blazers had last beaten the Broncos here on Dec. 8, 1999.

The WHL will put a trade moratorium in place next week. It will run from Monday through Dec. 26 … Moose Jaw’s city council has taken the first step in terms of landing a new multiplex for the city. It has voted to commit $10 million and match the first $5 million in corporate and private donations. Local service clubs have already pledged at least $60,000. Including land costs, the price tag on a new facility is expected to be around $40 million … The Moose Jaw Warriors have signed Curtis Amiot as their trainer, replacing Mike Murray who resigned on Monday. Amiot had been with the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. Murray left to join the staff at The Hockey Company. As a sales rep, he will service WHL teams.