Blazers open season on high note

Mason Buettner, Contributor Ω 

The atmosphere was contagious at the Interior Savings Centre on Friday night as the Kamloops Blazers defeated the Kelowna Rockets 6-5 in the regular season opener for both clubs.

The crowd welcomed the 2012-13 Blazers as the roster was introduced shortly after the 2011-12 B.C. Division Championship banner was raised to the rafters. Last season was the first time since 2001-02 that the Blazers won the division title and also the first time since 1998-99 that the team won a playoff series.

The tension between the division rivals was felt immediately as the Kelowna Rockets were booed by fans upon taking the ice. It was a hard-hitting game from the first faceoff and it was clear these teams have a history. Typical of all games between divisional rivals there were a lot of penalties called throughout with Kelowna taking 13 and Kamloops nine.

Matt Needham opened up the scoring halfway into the first period for the Blazers. That marker was followed shortly after by a Rockets goal from Ryan Olsen on Kelowna’s second power play of the game. The only fight came at 16:43 in the first, after a questionable hit from Henrik Nyberg of the Rockets. The period ended tied 1-1 as goaltenders Cole Cheveldave for Kamloops and Jordon Cooke for Kelowna held their own.

The bad blood continued to surface in the second period with skirmishes in front of the net at every stoppage of play. The Blazers had some new energy in the second frame and took the momentum early on with two goals in the first four minutes of the period, one of which came on the power play, to take a 3-1 lead. It didn’t take the Rockets long to answer back and each team added one more before the end of the second period, the Blazers leading 4-3.

Kamloops started the third period with a surprising move, pulling starting goalie Cole Cheveldave and putting in backup Taran Kozun. Even though Kozun sat on the bench for the first two periods he looked sharp with a few nice saves early on. The crowd was still alive in the third as Tim Bozon picked up his second goal of the night halfway through the period, giving Kamloops their second two-goal lead of the game. It didn’t last long as Kozun let in two quick goals and the Rockets rallied to stay alive. The Blazers had a chance at winning before extra time as the Rockets took a bad penalty late in the third, but were not able to capitalize.

Tim Bozon was the hero of the night scoring his third goal of the game in overtime. The crowd erupted, but surprisingly not a single hat was thrown on the ice for the hat trick by Bozun.

The 2012-13 season is off to a great start for the Blazers. Following Friday night’s opening victory, the team did not have long to rest on their laurels. Saturday night featured a rematch with the Rockets in Kelowna, where Kamloops prevailed by a 3-2 margin.

The Blazers now travel to Victoria for a two-game set against the Royals on Sept. 28 and 30 before returning home to face the Seattle Thunderbirds on Oct. 5.