If the Kamloops Blazers had hoped to play a perfect road game in Regina against the Pats, it’s quick start on offence certainly set things up favourably.
Add the contribution by goaltender Dylan Ferguson – a 42-save shutout – and the mission was successfully accomplished in front of 5,459 fans in Saskatchewan’s Queen City.
The Blazers, which limped out of the gate this season losing its first nine contests, has put together a rather impressive run of 15-7-0-1 in its last 23 games. Kamloops has won two of four on its current swing through the East Division, but has collected a point in three of those tilts.
On Wednesday at the Brandt Centre, a building that resembles a construction zone of sorts as the community readies for the 2018 Memorial Cup in May, Kamloops produced a suffocating performance in its defending zone.
While Regina was credited with 42 shots on goal on the night, the Blazers limited much of the activity to shots from the outside and also kept the Pats forwards away from any opportunities to corral rebounds near Ferguson. When Kamloops needed a big save, Ferguson was equal to the task.
On the first shift of the night, Jermaine Loewen kept the puck in at the Pats blueline and dished off to Garrett Pilon on his off-wing. Pilon stepped toward the slot and ripped a shot off the post past a screened Max Paddock. The goal light came on a mere 17 seconds into the affair, coincidentally thanks to Pilon’s 17th tally of the season. Last year, Pilon scored 20 times for the Blazers.
With Owen Williams in the penalty box, the Blazers doubled the margin at the 5:05 mark.
Pilon controlled the puck near the half wall and snuck a shot through on Paddock that sat momentarily in the crease before Luc Smith shoved the puck over the goal line. For Smith, who scored 12 goals last season in 61 games, the power play marker was his seventh of the year in his 30th game.
Early in the second period, Loewen made the key play on the Blazer’s third goal of the night, gaining the Pats zone and ripping a shot that caught Paddock squarely in the mask. The puck dropped in front of the crease where it bounced off the skate of Nolan Kneen and into the open net.
The Blazers third goal of the night would complete the scoring, with both goaltenders stealing the show the rest of the way.
Paddock, 17, had earned victory in each of his last five starts for Regina, including a 32-save performance on Saturday in a 4-2 win over the Central Division-leading Medicine Hat Tigers. During the streak, Paddock has compiled a 2.00 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. Against Kamloops, the Brandon-native did everything he could to give the Pats hope. In the third period alone, Paddock made 18 saves.
At the other end, Ferguson demonstrated a swagger perhaps not seen frequently enough from the 19-year-old keeper this season. The “Ferguson Flair” – a phrase coined by Kamloops play-by-play man Jon Keen – was readily apparent from the outset.
It was almost a year ago to the day when Ferguson took the reins in goal for Kamloops. Junior hockey fans will recall that Blazers starter Connor Ingram left the team for the Hockey Canada selection camp and earned a roster spot for the 2017 World Junior Championship. Ferguson played very well in Ingram’s absence.
Since then, Ferguson was selected by the Dallas Stars in the seventh round at the 2017 NHL Draft, then traded to the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights and signed an entry level contract. He spent a couple of weeks in the NHL this fall as an emergency replacement with Las Vegas, then returned to Kamloops to resume his role as the Blazers starter. Indeed, Ferguson has experienced a most unique calendar year.
The Blazers will have a day off before wrapping up its pre-Christmas schedule with two more games – in Moose Jaw (Friday) and Swift Current (Saturday).
Ice chips…The three stars were Ferguson, Pilon and Loewen…For head coach Don Hay, the win was #735 (regular season) in his career and #270 with the Blazers…Last season the teams met once, in Kamloops, with the Pats claiming a 3-0 decision, a game that saw Regina score two empty-net goals to preserve Tyler Brown’s 37-save shutout…With the win on Wednesday, Kamloops improves to 15-16-0-1. Regina falls to 16-15-2…Kamloops played without Ondrej Vala (Czech Republic) and Justin Sigrist (Switzerland), both imports, as the pair is vying for roster spots for the WJC…The Pats played without Sam Steel and Josh Mahura, both of whom are at the Hockey Canada selection camp in St. Catherines…On Nov. 28, the teams made a minor trade. Kamloops sent forward Scott Mahovlich to Regina in exchange for a seventh round draft pick in 2018…There has been much speculation of late that both Kamloops and Regina will ice significantly different rosters by the time the WHL trade deadline comes and goes on Jan. 10. The Blazers are said to possess a number of veteran players that could bring valuable youngsters and draft picks to the organization from current contenders. Kamloops is eyeing future roster preparation in its bid to play host to the 2020 Memorial Cup. The Pats, who currently sit in fourth place in the tough East Division, must bolster its lineup in preparation for its role as the host team for the 2018 Memorial Cup.