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Avon's OT winner lifts Petes to 5-4 win over Blazers, Memorial Cup semifinal berth

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Rob Wilson's message to his Peterborough Petes squad in the second period was clear. "When it went 4-1 I said, 'If you don't allow another goal, we can win this.
Peterborough Petes forward J.R. Avon, left, and Kamloops Blazers defenceman Ryan Michael battle for the puck during first period Memorial Cup hockey action in Kamloops, B.C., Thursday, June 1, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Rob Wilson's message to his Peterborough Petes squad in the second period was clear.

"When it went 4-1 I said, 'If you don't allow another goal, we can win this. If we give up another goal, then we're gonna be in big trouble," the head coach said.

What took place after stunned the likes of the 5,084 fans in attendance at Sandman Centre.

J.R. Avon scored the game-winning goal 10:54 into overtime to cap Peterborough's 5-4 comeback win over the Kamloops Blazers on Thursday, earning a semifinal berth at the Memorial Cup. The Petes scored four unanswered goals to take the tiebreaker game.

"That's our game," Wilson said. "The muddier the water, the better it is for us.

"It works in our favour when the games are usually like that."

The turning point came from Petes right-winger Chase Stillman. 

Just 1:45 into the second period, Stillman laid a hard hit on Matthew Seminoff, who was driving into the slot and appeared not to see Stillman coming from his left side.

Caedan Bankier approached Stillman and the two dropped the gloves with the fight eventually broken up after Bankier hit the ice. Stillman was given a five-minute major for fighting, while Bankier was given two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.

"It all started with Stiller," said Petes forward Brennan Othmann. "His hit and his fight, I know that some people want fighting out of the game and stuff like that, but it can change a game around.

"He turned around that game."

Connor Lockhart, Othmann, Samuel Mayer and Brian Zanetti scored the others for Ontario Hockey League champion Peterborough. Michael Simpson made 43 saves for the win.

The Petes will next play the Seattle Thunderbirds in Friday's semifinal for a shot to play the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Quebec Remparts in Sunday's final.

The Remparts earned a final berth after opening the tournament with wins over Kamloops and Seattle. Quebec later fell to Peterborough — which staved off elimination and forced Thursday's tiebreaker with that victory — 4-2 on Tuesday in both teams' final round-robin game.

"I think if we could play the way we did against Quebec and even tonight with the adversity, if we can get up on them. They're a good team … it's gonna be a good game," Othmann said of Friday's game.

Logan Stankoven, Olen Zellweger, Harrison Brunicke and Logan Bairos replied for host Kamloops. Dylan Ernst stopped 25 shots.

Stankoven — the Blazers captain and Kamloops, B.C., native — did a lap around the ice and received a standing ovation in what was likely his final game for the team.

"It just feels weird 'cause I spent the last five years here in my hometown," the Dallas Stars prospect said teary-eyed with his equipment still on. "I don't think it's hit me yet that, yeah, this is probably my last game here."

Head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston called the loss a "heartbreaker."

"There's players like Logan next to me who have put their heart and soul into it for four years," Clouston said. "We accomplished a ton, four division championships.

"Had a good run last year, couldn't quite get there. Good run this year, couldn't quite get there, it's similar and the guys fought hard today, really fought hard."

Lockhart opened the scoring 7:52 into the first period when Jax Dubois found him in the slot and beat Ernst five-hole.

Stankoven evened it up 11:20 into the frame on a rebound from a Connor Levis point shot.

Zellweger put Kamloops ahead 12:45 into the frame on the power play. The defenceman stopped the puck from getting out of the Petes' zone, moved in and scored.

With 2:27 remaining in the first, Brunicke collected the puck at the point, got around a defender and beat Simpson over his right shoulder.

Bairos gave Kamloops a 4-1 edge 4:23 into the middle frame. He fired a point shot that ricocheted off Simpson's blocker, then over him and in.

Just over three minutes later, the Petes began their comeback.

Othmann stripped Bairos of the puck, turned around and scored as he fell to one knee.

Mayer made it a one-goal game on the power play with 2:23 left in the second. He took a pass from Lockhart and fired in a one-timer from the point.

Zanetti knotted the contest just over a minute later tipping in a pass from Tucker Robertson while streaking toward the net.

Following a dazzling but missed scoring chance by Zellweger in overtime, Owen Beck took the puck up ice and dropped it off for Avon, who put it past Ernst to seal the win.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press