With the dust beginning to settle hours after the fact, the Blazers might best describe Saturday’s game as a series of unfortunate events. Perhaps that will depend on the severity of the injury to Blazers’ starting goaltender Dylan Garand which ultimately overshadowed a 3-2 loss on home ice to the Vancouver Giants.
Due to unfavourable highway conditions, the Giants didn’t reach the Sandman Centre until 7 PM, the original time set for puck drop. After unloading equipment, warmups and pre-game ceremonies, the game officially started at 8:23. Idle legs were apparent, as were anticipatory spectators.
After Ryan Hughes’ shot resonated off the post and a trigger-happy goal judge flipped the switch, the puck spurted out to the slot and bounced off the skate of Josh Pillar and in, this time leaving no doubt in the goal’s legitimacy. Pillar’s 14th of the season was his fifth in as many games and shifted momentum in Kamloops’ favour for the remainder of the period.
That surge carried over to the second frame where David Tendeck — the game’s first star from beginning to end — stood defiant to the Blazers’ attack. After withstanding waves of pressure, Tristen Nielsen accomplished what teammate Eric Florchuk could not — solve Dylan Garand on a breakaway. The Giants’ leading scorer cruised in alone before beating the netminder with his 21st of the season, shifting the momentum back in Vancouver’s favour.
“When you have good teams like this that can be opportunistic like that, you can’t give up chances,” offered Blazers’ captain Zane Franklin, “and that’s what we did.” Despite the energetic response from Vancouver, the game remained tied and within anyone’s reach.
That’s when a promising start was flipped upside down for Kamloops. As Nielsen drove the net from the right-wing, the 19-year old made contact with Blazers defenceman Quinn Schmiemann before losing his edge and crashing into Garand.
As Garand received attention from trainer Colin ‘Toledo’ Robinson, Schmiemann was assessed a minor penalty for tripping. Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston was skeptical upon seeing a replay: “It looks like there might have been a little bit of contact but players going that fast and cutting in, I think he’s responsible for where he ultimately ends up. I don’t think it was a trip. I think it was a player running into the goalie.”
Franklin had this to say: “Obviously the refs saw it one way and you can’t really change it so there’s no point in complaining about it. It’s just tough to see Garand go down, he’s one of the tougher guys I know, mentally and physically.”
Backup goaltender Rayce Ramsay entered the game under mounting pressure. With Max Martin already serving a high-sticking minor at the time of Schmiemann’s infraction, Ramsay jumped into a 5-on-3 man-advantage for the Giants and was beat by Nielsen.
31 seconds later, Justin Sourdif scored his 16th of the season and created a two-goal lead for the Giants.
If the Blazers were going to mount a third-period comeback for the second straight game, Clouston wanted to see his team simplify their approach. “We’ve scored some pretty goals, but sometimes it’s just something that’s a rebound or a guy going right to the paint. We got one of those and that was basically the message and I thought the guys played really hard in the third.”
Connor Zary’s 31st goal of the season drew Kamloops back to one goal and momentum once again shifted back to the home side. The Blazers outshot Vancouver 18-5 in the final frame including a flurry of chances with the extra attacker, but Tendeck responded to every opportunity. The 20-year old netminder stopped 40 of the 42 shots he faced en route to his 14th win of the season.
Thanks to a weekend sweep, the Giants have caught up to the Kelowna Rockets at 49 points apiece, but hold two games in hand on the Ogopogo.
With 68 points, Kamloops remains 11 points clear of the Victoria Royals for first in the B.C. Division.