The Victoria Royals and Kamloops Blazers faced off in a Family Day barnburner on Monday afternoon. When it was all said and done, Blazers’ assistant coach Cory Clouston figured momentum was an appropriate theme for the 7-6 overtime victory.
“In a full season, you’re going to have some games that aren’t your typical game and tonight was one of them where it was just back and forth.”
Victoria’s captain Phillip Schultz opened the game’s scoring with his 13th of the season. Not two minutes later, Mitchell Prowse found a seam through four players to beat Rayce Ramsay and give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
Shaun Clouston, the Blazers’ head coach, liked his team’s response: “I thought we had a lot of perseverance. We were tied and down, tied and down, it felt like way too many times. But I give the guys credit, each time we gave up one, we were able to get one back.”
Connor Zary’s powerplay goal from the slot cut the Royals’ lead to one. After the intermission, Quinn Schmiemann scored his fifth goal of the season to draw the Blazers even.
Victoria’s special teams took over the remainder of the period. Phillip Schultz scored his second of the game and fourth of the weekend against Kamloops. Less than three minutes later, Brandon Cutler took advantage of a Blazers’ miscue and went in alone before beating Ramsay on a breakaway.
“This is a tough league and it’s not easy on goaltenders,” Clouston offered post-game. “Teams play a really straight forward game, you’ve got to be quick.”
Kamloops’ response was awfully quick. Logan Stankoven received a nifty cross-ice pass from Brodi Stuart before one-timing his first of the game and 24th of the season.
The line of Stankoven, Matthew Seminoff and Kyrell Sopotyk wasted little time getting back to work in the third period. Montana Onyebuchi’s point shot snuck through a maze before coming to a halt behind Evanoff in the blue paint. Stankoven beat his man to the puck before dispensing his second of the game and eighth in his last four games.
Stankoven’s four-game point streak now stands at eight goals and 11 points; the Kamloops native now sits second in goals scored by WHL rookies and just one back of 18-year old Michal Teplý.
After Stankoven’s game-tying goal, the floodgates opened in the third period. Kyrell Sopotyk outwaited Evanoff before beating the sprawling goaltender for his fourth of the season. 1:35 later, Victoria’s Ty Ettinger scored his first of the season to draw the visitors even. 1:49 later, and with a shade over three minutes left in regulation, Kyrell Sopotyk scored his second of the game to put the Blazers on top.
Sopotyk’s big game was a welcome sight for linemate Stankoven. “It was great to see him come back a few weeks ago, now his success is finally paying off. He’s a hard-working kid so it’s good to see him have success and he was a big part of our win tonight.”
Game over? Not quite. With 34 seconds remaining and Mitchell Prowse in the penalty box, Kaid Oliver beat Ramsay with a shorthanded marker to tie the game up and force overtime.
Cory Clouston, this time, reinforced the Blazers’ approach to the man-advantage. “We’d only given up one shorthanded goal all year so it wasn’t a matter of who was on the ice, it was just that we made a bad decision to force a play that wasn’t there.”
Nonetheless, 49 seconds into the extra frame, Orrin Centazzo took advantage of a loose puck in front of Evanoff and secured the two points with his 39th of the season.
With the win and Victoria’s overtime loss, the Blazers have opened up a 10-point lead on their rivals. That gap should provide an extra bit of breathing room not only for the Blazers but for Dylan Garand to return from injury.
“He’s definitely a big part of our team, for sure,” said Cory Clouston. “We just have to make sure he’s ready to go when he comes back and don’t rush him. We’ve put ourselves in a position where we’ve got some distance between us and Victoria now. We can’t relax, but we have to make sure that he’s ready to go and 100 percent when it’s time to play.”