(Series tied 2-2)
The Blazers have hardly been the subject of conversation around Kamloops the last few years. But this edition seems to have caught the imagination of the Interior city, if only recently.
A near-capacity crowd of 5,193 turned out Wednesday night at Sandman Centre to watch the Blazers defeat the Victoria Royals 6-3 to tie their best-of-seven first-round Western Hockey League playoff series 2-2.
This comes after the 4,854 fans who came out for Victoria’s 3-2 victory in Game 3 and the overflow crowd of 6,000 last week for the special play-in game the host Blazers won against Kelowna to get into the playoffs. That followed the final six regular-season matches for Kamloops that were essentially elimination games as the Blazers came from near-oblivion just to be in the post-season.
The fifth game of the series between the B.C. Division second-seed Royals and division third-seed Blazers is Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and sixth game Monday back in Kamloops. If required, a deciding seventh game would be played next Wednesday at the Memorial Centre.
Of concern for the Royals will be the status of 20-year-old impact forward Kody McDonald, who will be looked at by the league for his attempt-to-injure match penalty and game misconduct in the third period Wednesday.
“It was emotional and we got caught up with their instigator style to get under our skin and we lost control of our emotions and lost control of the game,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
“We’re looking forward to getting back home to Victoria and playing our solid team game.”
It seemed almost destined that Blazers forward Connor Zary was going to play a role in Kamloops after missing the first two games of the series in Victoria due to an undisclosed ailment. Zary scored twice Wednesday to propel the Blazers to victory and has three goals in two games.
The 17-year-old native of Saskatoon must now certainly be a wildcard for the 2019 NHL draft after not being ranked in Central Scouting’s final report. Zary ended the regular season as one of the hottest players in the WHL with a stretch run of five goals and nine points in four games which earned him the league player-of-the-week award.
An eventful first period ended 2-2 Wednesday as two-way forward Dino Kambeitz scored twice for Victoria, with one of his goals short-handed and the other on the power play. The special-teams tallies were Kambeitz’s third and fourth goals of the post-season. They were sandwiched between Kamloops goals by Kyrell Sopotyk and Zary.
The Blazers took a 3-2 lead at 8:11 of the second period through Zane Franklin before Belarusian import-forward Igor Martynov tied it 3-3 for Victoria at 15:09 on a pure-sniper’s goal.
Zary tallied the winning goal at 8:19 of the third period as the Blazers closed out the game with three unanswered goals, the final two on the power play from Luke Zazula and Martin Lang.
Goaltender Griffen Outhouse, who in the 3-2 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday surpassed Coleman Vollrath for a Royals franchise record 10th career playoff victory, made 41 saves in defeat Wednesday.
The 20-year-old Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect Dylan Ferguson of Lantzville needed to make only 15 saves for the Blazers.
The Royals blueline injury parade continues to be a series storyline with Matthew Smith and Mitchell Prowse sitting out Wednesday night while pugnacious call-up Noah Lamb, who has proven himself to be a keeper when pressed into action late in the regular season and earlier in the playoffs, was thrown back into the mix.
Scott Walford, the third-round Montreal Canadiens draft pick whose ice-length rush set up McDonald’s winning goal in Game 3, and fellow-veteran Ralph Jarratt have eaten up yeoman minutes of ice time on the Victoria blueline in the series.
The Royals were again without injured team-leading scorer Kaid Oliver, who is likely out for the series with an upper-body issue.