Divisional games, especially Kamloops and Prince George seem to always have some fire but the bonfire was somewhat lacking to start this one. Both teams were not only playing the 3rd game in as many nights but also had to travel to get to Kamloops last night.
“Fatigue effects decision making, and I think we found we pucks in areas we weren’t ready to pressure. I like to think the body follows the mind. I think we were hoping to put them away early, and that didn’t happen so we just had to grind it out and find a way,” said head coach Serge Lajoie.
Despite not having the usual get up and go, both teams didn’t seem to like each other. There were quite a few scrums, headlocks, and phone numbers exchanged.
With just under four minutes remaining, Kamloops defenceman Montanya Onyebuchi threw a puck on goal and it found a way past Cougars’ netminder Taylor Gauthier to put the Blazers up 1-0 going into the 1st intermission.
Early in the 2nd period, the Blazers were called for a too many men penalty. That in itself not so unusual, but how it unfolded was a different story. About 30 seconds before the actual call was made (at a stoppage of play) the Blazers quite evidently had too many men on the ice, and it should have been called then, but it wasn’t. The Cougars Head Coach Richard Matvichuck was visibly and audibly upset. Play continued until there was an unrelated whistle and then the referees and linesman got together and made the right call calling the Blazers on too many men retroactively. Where this is slightly confusing is that any of the officials, including the linesmen, have the authority to make that call when it happens, so why wait?
“I asked if it had really happened” said Lajoie “because we had possession of the puck on two or three occasions and at that point in time the linesman can blow it down, but he hadn’t. They told me they were waiting for us to have possession of the puck and I let him know that we had possession on numerous occasions.”
No matter, Kamloops was able to kill off the two-minute penalty.
Later in the period, just after a power play of their own ended Kamloops forward Brodi Stuart scored his second in as many games off a slick feed from linemate Zane Franklin to increase their lead to 2-0.
The scoreline remained 2-0 into the 2nd intermission despite the Blazers having a late two-man advantage power play that generated lots of zone time.
The third really belonged to the road team, they came out like they needed to salvage this game and win one for their goalie, Taylor Gauthier who left the game with an illness, they almost did just that.
With under two minutes left to play Josh Maser scored his 11th of the year to cut the deficit just one. The Cougars pushed until the final horn but weren’t able to beat Dylan Garand a second time.
Kamloops’ backup netminder Dylan Garand was on his game tonight stopping 35 of 36 shots, many of which were of the scoring chance variety.
“I’ve said it all year, we have great goaltending. What I like about both Woody [Garand] and Fergy [Dylan Ferguson] is it doesn’t matter who is in there, the players play well in front of them. Sometimes the players feel so confident with Woody in there that they might cheat a little bit,” said Lajoie. “He works for his opportunities, he’s a character guy and the guys really like him in the dressing room. If anything, the one negative that came out of this game is that he didn’t get a shutout.”
Kamloops was able to hang on to the win and secure the two points improving their record against the Cougars to 3-0. They didn’t make it easy on themselves though. Allowing the late goal almost came to bite them even though they had a golden opportunity at the end of the second period to salt this one away.
“We have to develop a killer instinct, a we’re coming to the rink to win type of attitude. I’m not saying the guys don’t have that, but I think there is still a bit of wondering if we are going to be just close enough, are we going to be able to take that next step and put teams away,” said Lajoie.
After the game, fans and their children were welcomed onto the Sandman Centre ice to skate with their heroes. I asked Captain Jermaine Loewen what it means to be able to give back to the fans? “It’s awesome, just to see the fans out here supporting you. We have had some rough moments and they are always there, trying to support us through thick and thin, We can’t thank them enough for coming out and we felt it tonight in a big win.”
Blazing On By
The Blazers PP didn’t score tonight but the penalty kill went 6/7. Their PK is now up to 78.3%, good for 11th in the league. Remember, not so long ago it was dead last.
Kamloops is now four points up on Prince George for the 8th and final playoff spot, still with two games in hand. They are four points back of the Victoria Royals for 3rd in the division, who have two games in hand on the Blazers.