The Kamloops Blazers put another serious dent in the Kelowna Rockets’ hopes of a fourth-straight 50-victory season on Saturday night.
Centre Garrett Pilon broke a 2-2 tie with 38.9 seconds left as the Blazers beat the host Rockets, 3-2, at Prospera Place in Kelowna.
It was the Blazers’ first regular-season victory in Kelowna since Feb. 16, 2013. Between the two victories, the Blazers were 0-12-1 at
Prospera Place. Of course, the Blazers did win two games there in the 2013 playoffs as they swept the Rockets en route to the Western Conference final.
One night earlier, Pilon scored to give the Blazers a 3-1 lead in what ended up being a 3-2 Kamloops victory at the Sandman Centre. Pilon now has 15 goals in his freshman season, with five of them being game-winners.
Goaltender Connor Ingram, who stopped 53 of 55 shots for the Blazers on Friday night, was sharp again Saturday, this time stopping 44 shots as he improved his record to 29-15-9. Ingram was named the first star in both games, an honour he now has received 16 times this season.
“It’s a big one, obviously,” Blazers assistant coach Terry Bangen told Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier. “The last few years we’ve kind of been in a situation where we didn’t believe we could beat these guys, and it kept coming true. This weekend, we managed to win an emotional game (Friday) and then carried it over to (Saturday).”
The Blazers (32-25-9), who have won three in a row and five of six, have six games remaining. They remain in possession of the 10-team Western Conference’s first wild-card playoff berth. They now are four points ahead of the Spokane Chiefs, who lost 4-1 to the host Prince George Cougars last night. At the same time, the Blazers are fourth in the B.C. Division, three points behind the Cougars, who have five games remaining.
Kamloops will play its next three games on the road, visiting the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday, the Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday and the Rockets on Friday. The Blazers next play at home on March 12 when the Vancouver Giants are the visitors.
The Rockets (44-18-3) have to win six of their last seven games if they want to finish with at least 50 victories for an unprecedented fourth straight season. Their hopes of finishing atop the overall standings and the B.C. Division also took a serious hit, as they now are five points in arrears of the Victoria Royals, who beat the visiting Vancouver Giants, 7-3. The Rockets do have two games in hand on the Royals, though.
Last night in Kelowna, the Blazers scored the game’s first two goals. Left-winger Collin Shirley went upstairs with a backhand shot for his 34th goal at 17:12 of the first period. It came with one second left in a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity. Centre Nick Chyzowski’s 14th goal, off a rebound, gave the visitors the 2-0 lead at 8:09 of the second period.
With Ingram stopping everything, the Blazers nursed the lead into the third period when the Rockets struck for a pair of power-play goals. Left-winger Tomas Soustal tipped in a Rourke Chartier shot at 17:29, for his 17th goal, and right-winger Tyson Baillie tied when he banged home a rebound, for his 38th goal, at 17:29.
Of course, all that did was set the stage for more heroics from Pilon.
Kelowna head coach Brad Ralph told Fisher that the Blazers were the better team in this one.
“Absolutely . . . they worked hard, they won a lot of battles,” Ralph said. “I don’t think we had our best game tonight, but you’ve got to give Kamloops some credit. They played well defensively and their goalie was good again.
“We had a tough time generating scoring chances from inside the house. We made a good push there towards the end, but it was a little too late.”
Left-winger Jake Kryski was in the Blazers lineup and wearing a full cage after taking a hard check from Kelowna defenceman Joe Gatenby during the second period on Friday. Kryski was looking back for the puck at the time of the hit.
He took a Gatenby shoulder to the head and then appeared to hit his head on the ice when he fell. Kryski returned for one shift before calling it a night.
Gatenby wasn’t penalized for the hit, so the Blazers were faced with making a decision on whether to file with the WHL office, asking for supplemental discipline.
As general manager Stu MacGregor explained to Jon Keen, the radio voice of the Blazers, the WHL’s supplemental discipline process is meant for instances in which a player is injured.
The deadline to file was such that the Blazers had to make a decision Saturday morning before Kryski had finished going through the concussion protocol. They chose to ask the league for supplemental discipline, then learned that Kryski had passed the protocol.
Therefore, because there wasn’t an injury, Gatenby wasn’t suspended.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 5,541. . . . The Rockets were 2-for-6 on the power play; the Blazers were 1-for-3. . . . Pilon has six goals and three assists in seven games against Kelowna this season. . . . The Blazers scratched F Gage Quinney (WHL suspension), G Cole Kehler, F Spencer Bast and D Conner McDonald. . . . Quinney’s suspension was set at two games by the WHL on Saturday. That was for a hit on D Evan Fiala of the Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday night. Fiala, who left what was a 5-0 Kamloops victory, has since missed two games. . . . The Rockets scratched G Jackson Whistle, F Nick Merkley, D Gordie Ballhorn and F Tate Coughlin. . . . The Blazers are 23-0-4 when they take a lead into the third period. . . . CFJC news anchor Bill O’Donovan, who is also the Blazers’ public address voice, notes that Kamloops F Matt Needham had two assists, giving him 244 points in 312 career games. His father, Mike, who is an assistant coach with the Blazers, had 243 points in 176 games with the Blazers (1987-90).
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