It was a case of something having to give.
Victoria Royals forward Brayden Schuurman went into Tuesday night’s game against the Kamloops Blazers named the Western Hockey player of the week earlier in the day for his five goals and six points in his previous two games.
Facing him was Blazers goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford, the heir presumptive to the crease for Canada in the 2022 world junior championship in December and January at Edmonton and Red Deer.
Garand needed to make only 16 saves to hold Schuurman and the Royals at bay in a 3-2 victory before 1,732 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre as Kamloops remained undefeated. Schuurman had an assist and five shots on goal.
The Juan de Fuca minor hockey product Garand is highly likely to be the starter for Canada after winning the silver medal in the 2021 world juniors as back-up to Devon Levi of Northeastern University of the NCAA, who has aged out of the Under-20 level.
But first is the matter of club play in the WHL, which resumes tonight with Garand and the Blazers (3-0) taking on the Victoria Royals (1-3) in the back end of the two-game set in the Memorial Centre.
“It’s great to be in the conversation again for the world juniors but it’s a bit of a ways off, yet, and I’m trying to stay in the moment [with the Blazers],” he said.
Although he spends his off-seasons living and training on the Island, Garand has missed facing the Royals in game play in his hometown during the pandemic. There is again a cheering section of family and friends on hand this week in the Memorial Centre.
“It’s great to be back playing games on the Island again, something I haven’t been able to do for nearly two years because of COVID,” he said.
Garand returned to the Blazers after training camp with the New York Rangers, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL draft.
“It’s something to build off. I learned a lot about what it’s going to take to get to the next level,” said Garand.
“The speed is so much greater in the pros and their shot releases off the sticks are so much quicker. They all know what they are doing.”
Few teams in the WHL were hurt more by the pandemic than the Blazers. They were considered a major threat but the 2020 playoffs were cancelled and the 2021 season was abbreviated and in a bubble with no post-season. So this is it for the Blazers veterans such as Garand and forward Logan Stankoven, the blazing-fast Dallas Stars-signed second-round draft pick who is off to a strong start with two goals and six points over his first three games. Stankoven added an assist Tuesday and had six shots on goal in being named game first star as Marko Stacha, Matthew Seminoff and Caedan Bankier scored the Kamloops goals. Bailey Peach and Wyatt Wilson, assisted by brother Anthony Wilson, scored for Victoria, which scored twice in the third period to narrow a 3-0 deficit after two period to one goal.
Royals goaltender Tyler Palmer was under siege once again as the Royals were outshot 14-6 after one period, 32-11 after two and 42-18 on the game.
Kamloops was an honourable mention in the first Canadian Hockey League top-10 poll of the season and looking to move up, even with Canadian world junior silver-medallist and Calgary Flames first-round draft pick Connor Zary graduated to the pros.
“Last year was tough and it’s refreshing to get a run at a full season,” said Garand.
“Our new guys are really jelling with the veterans and it’s a good group that is coming together.”