After dropping back-to-back games to the Prince George Cougars the previous weekend, the Blazers returned home to defeat the WHL-leading Edmonton Oil Kings by a score of 5-3. Redemption, atonement, reparation — call it what you will — but Wednesday’s post-game comments suggest that “bounce back” will do just fine for the Kamloops Blazers.
Reflecting on a challenging two-game series in Prince George, Garand offered a rather straightforward assessment of his play.
“It wasn’t my best weekend for sure. I would have liked to have a few goals back there but it’s in the past –that’s important for me. I try to look at the video and see what I can learn, what I can do better.
With just five points separating the top seven teams in the WHL, the margin for error appears to be razor-thin for a strong group of contenders, and while the majority of observers will continue to scrutinize scoreboards and standings on a daily basis, Blazers goaltender Dylan Garand appears to be unfazed by the constant ebbs and flows.
“Honestly, it’s probably a good thing for me that that happened because it made me better, and the bounce back tonight felt really good so it was nice to do that.”
Not only did the Blazers bounce back into the win column, but they also managed to dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole in the second period, earning themselves a rare come-from-behind win.
“At 3-1, it wasn’t looking great,” Blazers coach Shaun Clouston commented post-game. “I thought the goal by our young guys was the turning point for sure. They worked hard to create that turnover at the blue line, [they] got the puck in deep and just went to work.”
After a dominant shift from Daylan Kuefler, Caedan Bankier, and Matthew Seminoff, Montana Onyebuchi’s fifth goal of the season provided the much-needed spark for Kamloops.
“We’ve been in a lot of games where we were behind a goal or two goals and we fought back and fought back but haven’t been able to come from behind recently so that was great to see.”
In a rare evening where the top line didn’t find the score sheet, the Blazers relied on their depth to complete the comeback with goals from Onyebuchi, Max Martin, Brodi Stuart, and Logan Stankoven’s empty netter, while 17-year-old Josh Pillar recorded three primary assists.
“It was great to see Pills [Josh Pillar] have a big night, nice to see [Brodi] Stuart score. We got some really big contributions from players other than our top line. We’ve been relying on our top line for a long time and it’s great to win a game where those guys were held off the score sheet,” Clouston went on to add.
Regardless of who chips in offensively, Garand credits his team for sticking to what they do best.
“For a team that we don’t see that often, it’s important that we play to our identity. We try to do some video and see their tendencies as much as we can, but I think it’s just important to focus on our game and play how we wanna play, not try to worry too much about what they’re doing.”
Thanks to Edmonton’s defeat and a Lethbridge Hurricanes victory, the Oil Kings now find themselves in second place in the Central Division, while the Blazers have a three-point lead on Kelowna in the B.C. Division.
Wednesday marks the third time in Josh Pillar’s career that he’s recorded three assists in a game.
Shortly after the game, the Blazers announced that they had traded 19-year-old defenceman Luke Zazula to the Tri-City Americans for second- and third-round draft picks in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft. More details can be found here.