Blazers defeat Victoria Royals to move closer to WHL B.C. Division crown

In an ideal world, goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford and defencemen Sean Strange of Saanich and Ethan Brandwood of Victoria would be chasing the Western Hockey League title and Memorial Cup national championship with the Kamloops Blazers, who were built for this moment.

But the pandemic put paid to those dreams. The consolation prize is the B.C. Division title of an abbreviated season and the Blazers (15-4) continued in that quest with a 5-1 victory over the Victoria Royals on Thursday night at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

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As in their 5-2 victory Monday over the Royals, the Blazers were missing Calgary Flames first-round draft pick Connor Zary to injury and Logan Stankoven with Team Canada at the world U-18 championship in Texas. But again, that didn’t stop them. That is what depth will do for you.

The division championship will come down to a mathematical formula against the Kelowna Rockets (8-3-1). Since the Rockets will only play 16 games, compared to the 22 for the other four teams (down from the originally-scheduled 24), the divisional crown will be decided by points-per-game percentage. The Rockets were out of action 19 days last month because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. Those games will not be made up.

Victoria, beginning a major rebuild with the youngest roster in the WHL, is enduring the worst season in franchise history at 2-15-2 and will finish at the far foot of the table. The Royals continued looking to the future by calling up their 2020 WHL bantam draft first-round pick Austin Zemlak, a 16-year-old defenceman selected ninth overall, who made his league debut Monday and played again Thursday.

“The work ethic is there and we are gaining confidence every day,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

Kamloops outshot Victoria 32-29.

“It was an even game in most metrics but Kamloops was more opportunistic,” said Price.

“Both teams were tired and banged up. But it was still physical with a couple of fights.”

Kamloops veteran Orrin Centazzo scored the first two goals to set the tone for the victors. Matthew Seminoff also scored twice. Captain Tarun Fizer scored for Victoria.

New York Rangers prospect Garand, who with Blazers-teammate Zary won the silver medal with Canada in the 2021 world junior championship, made 28 saves in goal for Kamloops for his 13th victory. Over-age starter Adam Evanoff, who allowed four goals, and rookie replacement Keegan Maddocks, who allowed one, combined to make make 27 saves for the Royals. They faced 16 shots each.

The Royals close out their season account against the Prince George Cougars (9-7-3) on Saturday in Kelowna, against the Vancouver Giants (10-9) on Tuesday in Kamloops and against the host Rockets on Wednesday in Kelowna.

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