Friday, 11 December 2015

Shirley sizzles in homecoming

Collin Shirley was on fire for the Blazers on Friday night.
    Collin Shirley ensured a rare and possibly last WHL visit to his hometown was a memorable one.
    The 19-year-old forward had a pair goals, which included a beauty on a breakaway, and an assist to power his Kamloops Blazers to a 6-2 romp over the host Saskatoon Blades at the SaskTel Centre on Friday night. Besides the strong offensive night, Shirley was also a plus-four in the plus-minus department.
    “Your time in the Western League goes pretty quick,” said Shirley. “It is crazy to think that this might be the last time to see all my friends and family here in the SaskTel Centre.
    “It was a special night I think. Lots of friends and family came out to support (me), which was awesome. I really appreciate what they have done for me.”
    As the Blazers play out of the WHL’s Western Conference, they only play in Saskatoon once every second season. That means Shirley won’t play again in “the Bridge City” unless he is traded out of Kamloops, which is unlikely, or the Blazers and Blades have a surprise meeting in the WHL championship series.
    Way back in 2011, Shirley was a first round WHL Bantam Draft selection of the Kootenay Ice, and he was dealt to the Blazers early in his 17-year-old season. He has really found his stride this season posting 19 goals, 17 assists and a plus-10 rating in the plus-minus department in 27 games.
    Shirley also played for the WHL team in the Canadian Hockey League Canada Russia Series in November and collected a goal and four assists in two games.
    “I had a better start this year than last,” said Shirley, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 197 pounds. “Jumping off to a big start was huge.
    “Me and Gage Quinney and Matt Revel are kind of clicking. It is something we didn’t really have before. It has been good so far, so hopefully we can keep that up.”
    Shirley set up Quinney for the Blazers first goal at the 14:59 mark of the first period, which tied the contest up at 1-1. Cameron Hebig gave the Blades a short lived 1-0 lead scoring just past the midway point of the opening frame.
    Early in the second period, Shirley scored on breakaway potting a goal short side on Blades goaltender Brock Hamm to give the visitors a 2-1 edge. That sparked the Blazers on a roll that saw them take a 5-1 edge into the second intermission.
    “I just kind of got lucky there,” said Shirley about his breakaway goal. “There was a blocked shot off a faceoff that kind of sent me on my way.
    “I play with Brock (Hamm) during the summer a lot. We are good buddies. I got him on the short side there, which was nice.”
    Blazers head coach Don Hay said Shirley put together a strong compete level in his game about this time last year. The veteran bench boss added that Shirley’s confidence also grew from having a great showing in the CHL Canada Russia Series.
Collin Shirley checks out on ice action after a shift.
    Hay was pleased with how all his Saskatchewan players performed on Friday night, and he believed the outing had a little extra significance for Shirley.
    “I think Shirley being 19 it was special,” said Hay. “It could be the last time that he plays in this building.
    “It is always special to come home and play well.”
    Saskatoon product Garrett Pilon and Nick Chyzowski added singles for the Blazers in the second, while Shirley picked up his second marker of the contest.
    Hamm was pulled after the second period ended having stopped 20 of 25 shots fired his way.
Associate player Dorrin Luding started the third period for the Blades and gave up a goal on the first shot he faced on a soft floater from Kamloops defenceman Ondrej Vala. Luding settled down turning away 10 of 11 shots sent his way.
    Mason McCarty rounded out the game’s scoring potting his sixth of the season for the Blades with 24.3 seconds to play in the third. Saskatoon lost its fifth in a row falling to 10-16-3.
    Imperial, Sask., product Connor Ingram made 33 stops to earn the win in goal for the Blazers (13-10-3-1).
    While the offensive side of Shirley’s game had hit another gear, he is even more proud of his work in the defensive zone.
    “For a long time, we talked about my play without the puck,” said Shirley. “I have always been a minus player in the league since I was 16 until last year.
    “This year I am kind of hoping to be in that plus (side of things) and be better defensively. The offence is there, but I need a full game.”
    Shirley had a large contingent of family and friends in the crowd of 3,797 on Friday night. There were two noticeable absences as his younger sisters Grace and Sophie were playing at the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament being held in Wilcox, Sask., and Milestone, Sask.
    Grace is a 14-year-old rookie forward on the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team, who has 11 goals and six assists in 16 regular season games. Sophie is a 16-year-old rookie with the Notre Dame Hounds squad that plays in the Junior Women’s Hockey League, and she has piled up 10 goals and 13 assists in 16 regular season games. 
Collin Shirley's breakaway goal celebration is shown on the video screen.
    On Monday, Sophie was named as a member of Canada’s team that will play at the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation’s under-18 women’s world championships, which run Jan. 8-15 in St. Catharines, Ont.
    Collin is proud of both of his sisters, and was pumped that Sophie will get the chance to play on the international stage.
    “We give her (Sophie) a lot of credit,” said Collin. “She is a great player.
    “I used to teach her all that stuff on the backyard rink. I am just kidding. She is doing really well, and I am happy for her.”
    The Blazers head to Prince Albert on Saturday to take on the Raiders. The Blades host the Regina Pats on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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