Though the WHL season was abruptly cut short, the 2019-2020 edition of the Kamloops Blazers was a remarkable one. Between their first B.C. Division title since 2012-13 and multiple franchise records being pushed to the brink, the orange white and blue made this one a season to remember. The statistics prove as much.
The Blazers led the entire WHL in offense with 271 goals scored, 75 better than the 196 scored in 2018-19 and the most since the 2011-12 group that scored 290. Multiplying their 4.3 goals-per-game by the five games remaining on the schedule, the Blazers were on track to score 293 goals. Those 293 goals would have been the most in a single Blazer season since Marc Habscheid’s squad recorded 298 in 1998-99.
On defense, the Blazers allowed just 166 goals, the fourth-fewest in the WHL. At 2.63 goals-against-per-game, the Blazers were on pace to concede 179 goals, their fewest in a single season according to hockeydb.
The sharp curve in production from the previous year led to a +105 goal differential, their best since 1994-95 when Don Hay guided the organization to its third Memorial Cup.
Two particular factors that played into the group’s success were special teams and exceptional goaltending.
On the man-advantage, the Blazers were clicking at 26.7 percent, good for second overall in the WHL. Not only did they move up 12 spots from last year’s ranking of 14th in the WHL, but the Blazers’ man-advantage was statistically their best since 1996-97.
Shorthanded, the Blazers killed 83.3 percent of the opposition’s powerplay opportunities. With the third-best penalty-kill in the league, the Blazers jumped up 15 spots from the previous season while scoring 11 shorthanded goals and giving up just three.
Though strong goaltending numbers are becoming more and more common in the WHL, we can’t sell the Blazers’ starting goaltender short, Dylan Garand was phenomenal. The Victoria, B.C. native, in his first WHL season as a starter, set a franchise record with a 2.21 goals-against average in 42 games. Garand’s save percentage and goals-against average were both third-best in the WHL; the 17-year old’s heavy lifting in the blue paint is directly linked to the team’s success.
As good as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the blue line made significant contributions at the other end of the rink.
In 2018-19, the Blazers received 20 goals and 116 points from their defense. One season later, the rearguards provided 39 goals and 169 points, a 53 point increase. Max Martin’s career-best 14 goals and 58 points led the way.
Another season, another batch of rookies. But, not just any batch. In total, there were 376 games played by Blazer rookies this season. Those seven freshmen chipped in 54 goals and 122 points, a 16 goal and 11 point increase from the previous season’s rookies.
Kamloops, B.C. native Logan Stankoven — whose 29 goals are tied with Rob Brown for the single-season record by a 16-year old Blazer — led the charge with 48 points.
The 2020-21 season will likely see a smaller rookie crew, but Blazer fans should expect an uptick in production from the sophomores.
More on the forwards later…