The blue line is bountiful when it comes to the Island.
Dylan Coghlan of Nanaimo made his NHL debut this season to join Victoria veterans Tyson Barrie, Jordie Benn and Matt Irwin as defencemen in the big league. The Victoria Royals of the WHL next season could feature a true rarity in three rearguard hometown-produced first-round bantam draft picks in Jason Spizawka, Nolan Bentham and Jacson Alexander.
Flying under the radar in this Island defensive horn of plenty has been Sean Strange of Saanich, who has carved out a steady four-season junior career with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. That is despite going only in the 10th round, 202nd overall, in the 2015 bantam draft as Kamloops’ final pick.
“People didn’t have too high expectations of me but I worked hard each season, and also during summers back home on the Island, and I’m proud of my career,” said the graduate of the Saanich Minor Hockey Association and South Island Royals midget team.
Director Stanley Kubrick had Dr. Strangelove. The Blazers have had a Strange love, too.
“That Kamloops chose me as one of their over-age 20-year-olds this season shows the confidence they have in me since each team is only allowed three,” noted the Islander.
Strange, who turned 21 in January, meets the Victoria Royals for the last time tonight when the first-place Blazers (14-4) and last-place Royals (2-14-2) clash in the Kelowna hub of the pandemic-abbreviated 2021 WHL B.C. Division season. The four annual games the Blazers played at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in normal times were circled on the calendar at the beginning of each season.
“Those were always special because my extended family and my buddies were in the stands to watch me play,” said Strange.
That included his fraternal twin brother Ryan Strange, a centre whose 20-year-old season with the Victoria Cougars was cut short when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League campaign. Also on the Victoria Cougars is younger brother Kieran Strange.
There are four games remaining in Sean Strange’s junior career.
“It’s starting to hit me and the emotions are getting high,” said the former Spectrum student.
“But I’m going to remain focused right through to the end.”
As he should because the Blazers are in a battle with the Kelowna Rockets (8-3-1) for the B.C. Division championship, which will be decided by winning percentage because the Rockets will have played six less games than Kamloops’ 22 due to the COVID outbreak last month on the Rockets. The Vancouver Giants retained a very slim mathematical chance at the title heading into Wednesday night’s late-finishing game against the Prince George Cougars.
The division crown will be a consolation only for a potent Blazers team that was a threat for the WHL championship and national Memorial Cup this season and last season. Last season’s playoffs were cancelled and this regular season is only a rump without playoffs. Strange admits it’s sharply disappointing because he believes the Blazers were poised in both seasons for long playoff runs. But they will never know. So the division crown will have to suffice this spring. At least it’s something.
“I’ve never won a championship,” said Strange.
The Islander said he has not decided on his future career path.
“I’m hoping for a pro deal [in the AHL/ECHL],” said the six-foot-one, 200-pound stay-at-home defender.
He’s been a constant improver so don’t bet against him.
“If not [pro], then U Sports,” said Strange.
Strange has four years of free university banked in the WHL education program which pays for a year of post-secondary schooling for each season played in the league.
ICE CHIPS: The Royals close out their season account tonight at Prospera Place against the Blazers, Saturday also in Kelowna against Prince George, Tuesday in the Kamloops hub against Vancouver and next Wednesday against Kelowna.