Friday night’s game between the Blazers and visiting Portland Winterhawks was touted as a marquee matchup between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference. After a combined 18 goals in the two previous bouts, the first 20 minutes provided just one goal and only a handful of threatening scoring chances, far from the lofty expectations going into the contest.
That first goal, courtesy of Kade Nolan’s point-shot which navigated its way past a screened Dylan Garand, was the lone Winterhawks’ marker until Seth Jarvis’ shootout winner sealed a 2-1 victory for the visitors. Up until that point, it was anyone’s game.
“I think both goalies gave their teams a chance to have success; it was just a really hard-played game, almost like a playoff-type of game.”
Don Hay, who made his first trip back to Kamloops since August, was among those at a near-loss for words after an outstanding goalie performance on both sides of the puck.
“I really feel that Joel [Hofer] is one of the best goalies, not only in our conference but in our league.”
Hofer, a fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2018, stopped 34 of 35 shots en route to earning the first star of the game.
Asked if Hofer could be in the discussion for a spot on Canada’s World Juniors squad, Winterhawks’ captain Johnny Ludvig doesn’t see much of an argument: “I don’t know how he couldn’t, he’s been amazing for us every game this season, so we’ll see, but he definitely deserves a spot there.”
Garand, meanwhile, gave Hofer and the Winterhawks a run for their money while stopping 33 of 34 shots and being labelled as “the goalie of the future” by Hay.
The sluggish first period, according to Hay, may have been due to some nerves on both sides. “It was kind of like a boxing match with both teams kinda feeling each other out and nobody wanted to make a big mistake so the game never got away from anybody.”
Aside from a few notable shifts, the Blazers failed to gain much momentum against the Winterhawks through the first 30 minutes until a pair of fights ignited the Blazers and their home crowd. Mason Mannek and Quinn Schmiemann’s scrum was followed up by a massive collision between Seth Jarvis and Montana Onyebuchi at the blue line, sparking a heavyweight tilt between Onyebuchi and Ludvig.
“We knew it was gonna be a battle coming in here. They’re a really good team. They were throwing hits, we were throwing hits, fights happen in a game but both teams battled really hard tonight,” Ludvig went on to add.
If the game had any chance of “getting away”, it was the moment Max Martin’s high-sticking penalty gave the Winterhawks a four-minute powerplay in the latter end of the second period.
Connor Zary and the WHL’s best penalty kill, however, turned their misfortune into opportunity when the 18-year old found a sliver of daylight above Hofer’s blocker side, tying the game at 1-1 heading into the final period.
In a game that featured the two highest-scoring teams in the Western Conference, it was ultimately the Garand and Hofer show.
“I think both teams are pretty high-powered. They have that one Zary line with Orrin Centazzo and Zane Franklin which is one of the best lines in the league. It’s a challenge when they’re on the ice to shut them down so I thought our guys did a pretty good job defending them and they did a good job defending us so it was just a really well-played game.”
Not only was Hay treated to a win against his former club, but the 65-year old relished one of his few opportunities to return home and spend time with family during the busy WHL season.
“I’m able to stay at home for a couple of days so it’s kinda nice. The grandchildren come in, the kids come in and have a couple of home-cooked meals and it’s nice to visit everybody.”
While Ludvig and Hay enjoy the luxury of a truly home-cooked meal, Kamloops and a whole pile of teddy bears will be ready for redemption in part-two of the double-header.