There’s a reason why hockey teams don’t like to trade with teams in their division, and they certainly don’t look to make swaps with their biggest rivals.
Exhibit No. 1: Centre Gage Quinney of the Kamloops Blazers.
Early this season, the Kelowna Rockets were up against a 20-year-old problem — they had too many of them — and
traded Quinney to the Blazers for a 2016 third-round bantam draft pick.
Today, Quinney, who is from Las Vegas, might be a good bet to lead the Blazers past the Rockets in the first round of the WHL playoffs. He scored two goals and added an assist on Saturday as the host Blazers blitzed the Rockets, 4-0, to tie the best-of-seven series, 3-3.
They’ll decide the whole thing tonight (Monday) in Kelowna, with the winner going on to meet Victoria Royals, who beat the Chiefs, 6-2, in Spokane last night to win that series, 4-2.
The next series will open with games in Victoria on Thursday and Saturday nights.
Quinney had 50 points, including 27 goals, in 48 games with the Blazers this season, after recording seven points, two of them goals, in five games with the Rockets.
He split last season between the Rockets and Prince Albert Raiders, totalling 46 points, 16 of them goals, in 70 games.
His three-points in Game 6 upped his series-leading total to nine. He also leads all skaters in assists, with seven.
“It’s great to see,” Kamloops goaltender Connor Ingram said of Quinney’s performance. “He’s brought us some success and that’s great for him.”
The Blazers were 1-6-0 when they added Quinney to the mix; they immediately went on a 7-2-0 run to get things straightened out. While they were hoping he would help their offence, they also wanted his experience. He had 13 points in 15 playoffs as he helped the Rockets to the WHL title last season, then he had four goals and an assist in five Memorial Cup games.
In other words, the Blazers got him for games like the next one.
“When you get to the playoffs you obviously want to win . . . that’s the main thing,” Quinney said. “We’ve got a Game 7 so anything can happen.”
The key, he said, will be to “keep it simple and play a good road game.”
Of course, goaltending and special teams might have something to do with that.
Ingram is winning the goaltending war over Kelowna’s Michael Herringer, who, while he has put up two shutouts in six games, has been yanked twice and also surrendered two goals in the last 31 seconds of a 5-4 loss in Game 2.
The Blazers have five power-play goals in the series — their first three goals in Game 2 and their first two in Game 6.
“That’s a big part of the playoffs,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said of goaltending and special teams. “When you have it, you give yourself a real good chance to have success. When you don’t have it, you don’t have the success.”
With special teams in mind, Kelowna’s Rod Southam, the team captain, knows that discipline will be important.
“If you give the opposing team either way enough power plays they’re going to start scoring on them,” he said. “Discipline is a huge part in playoffs. One penalty, one goal can change or end your season.”
The Blazers are 5-for-25 with the man advantage; the Rockets are 2-for-25.
“The team that starts the best will have the most momentum,” Hay said. “This series has gone back and forth. I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the two teams. It’s very close.
“Both teams really count on their goalies and that might be the difference in Game 7.”
If you’re into numbers, it’s worth noting that the Rockets have won the odd-numbered games and the Blazers the even.
Southam pretty much summed up the series with this: “Lot of ups, lot of downs. It’s quite the rivalry between us two. It’s been back and forth from Game 1. Momentum our way; momentum their way.
“What’s better in hockey than a Game 7?”
JUST NOTES: Quinney’s father, Ken, played four seasons (1981-85) with the Calgary Wranglers and was an East first-team all-star in 1983-84 after putting up 118 points, including 64 goals. . . . Quinney’s brother, Landon, 17, is in his first season with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He was pointless as the Warriors eliminated the Prince Albert Raiders from the first round in five games. . . . The Blazers haven’t been in a Game 7 since April 18, 2012. They dropped that one 2-0 in Portland as they lost a second-round series to the Winterhawks. F Matt Needham is the lone Kamloops player left on the roster who played in that game. . . . In their last Game 7 appearance, on April 3, 2013, the Rockets beat the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds, 3-2, in overtime. F Tyson Baillie got the winner at 5:10. . . . Kelowna has five players on its roster who played in that one — F Riley Stadel, F Justin Kirkland, F Cole Linaker D Joe Gatenby and Baillie. . . . The Rockets would like nothing better than for Baillie to find the net against the Blazers. A Western Conference first-team all-star, he led them in goals (43), assists (52) and points (95) in the regular season, but has only two assists in the first six games of these playoffs.
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