Heartbreak? You want to see some heartbreak?
Forget about Harlequin romance novels or the first half of Hugh Grant movies. They’re nothing.
Instead, come out and spend a couple of hours with the Kamloops Blazers.
There’s heartbreak, and then there’s what happened to the Blazers on Saturday night at the Sandman Centre.
The Blazers, who went into the game having lost their first five games of this WHL season, were entertaining the Victoria Royals, winners of five of their first six and Western Conference leaders.
The Blazers hung in there with the visitors, almost to the bitter end. In fact, it was 1-1 almost halfway through the third period when Victoria defenceman Joe Hicketts was penalized for a hit from behind on Kamloops forward Garrett Pilon.
“You go on the power play,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said, “and you think you’re going to get one and they get the shorthanded goal.”
Yes, that’s exactly what happened. Yes, Hay was shaking his head in disbelief.
Kamloops defenceman Nolan Kneen, playing his sixth regular-season game, had the puck in the defensive zone, just off the post to his left. With Victoria forward Logan Fisher approaching, Kneen started to back-pedal but the puck didn’t go with him.
Fisher gathered up the loose puck, went to the front of the net and was able to outwait goaltender Dylan Ferguson before scoring what stood up as the winning goal in Victoria’s 3-1 victory.
On this night, heartbreak came at 10:48 of the third period. It was punctuated at 19:56 when Victoria’s Tyler Soy scored into an empty Kamloops net.
“It was a nice surprise,” said Fisher, a 20-year-old from Red Deer, of what was his first goal this season. “The penalty kill has been working hard and it’s nice to get rewarded with one, especially at a big time in the game. It definitely felt good to see that one go in.”
Kneen, 16, is a player with a bright future; earlier in the week he was one of 66 players selected by Hockey Canada to play on one of its three entries in the U17 World Hockey Challenge that opens on Oct. 30.
When Hay got through with his media obligations last night, he headed right back into the dressing room.
“I’m going to talk to him pretty quickly,” Hay said. “I didn’t say anything to him on the bench. He feels bad. He probably wouldn’t even hear me at that time. He’s going to make a lot of good things happen over his junior career. That’s what he has to know going forward . . . there’s going to be bumps in the road and there’s going to be smooth sailing. He just hit a bump.”
Ferguson, a 17-year-old freshman from Lantzville, B.C., was outstanding in his regular-season debut. He finished with 27 saves, and made sure to stop by Kneen’s stall after the game.
Ferguson told Kneen: “Don’t worry about it. We know what you’re going to do next time. Keep playing the way you play. Don’t keep your head down about that one.”
“No one’s blaming Nolan for that play,” Ferguson added. “That’s just one of those times where we couldn’t get the puck out of our zone. They were pressuring us, we broke down and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”
Prior to last night, Ferguson had played 36 minutes in relief of starter Connor Ingram during a 7-3 loss to the visiting Kelowna Rockets on opening weekend. Ferguson gave up four goals in that one; he was much better last night.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Hay said, admitting that he had been thinking of not starting Ferguson until a U.S. road swing that begins next weekend. “But I thought he had a really good practice on Thursday. He really competed hard on Thursday and Friday. I thought, let’s reward him. We had gone five in a row with Ingram. (Ferguson’s) play tonight was really solid.”
The Blazers next play Tuesday against the visiting Red Deer Rebels. Hay wouldn’t commit to a starting goaltender just yet, but said Ferguson has given him something to think about.
“We’ll see who goes hard on Monday,” Hay said.
Last night, the Royals, who had won 3-0 in Kelowna on Friday, opened the scoring at 17:06 of the second period, with freshman forward Matthew Phillips dangling his way through defenceman Patrik Maier and tucking the puck past Ferguson.
But the Blazers, who had developed a penchant for scoring and then giving up a quick goal, bounced right back with Matt Needham scoring just 50 seconds later. Needham, a 25-goal man last season, got his first of this season with a quick wrist shot from 20 feet and he celebrated as though he had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“I felt like I’ve been playing pretty good lately,” Needham said, pointing out that he “hit a post . . . been a couple of nice saves on me. It was nice to get that one.”
“It’s good to see Needham get on the scoreboard,” Hay said. “We need him to be a contributor, for sure.”
In the end, though, there was only more heartbreak for a team that now seems to be finding ways to lose.
“We have to limit the mistakes,” Needham, the team captain, said. “They’re going to happen throughout a game, especially with the age of our team. But if we get rid of a few mistakes we win that game. It’s frustrating but it’s something that’s going to happen.”
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,474. . . . Victoria G Coleman Vollrath stopped 19 shots. He now has played seven straight complete games. . . . The Blazers scratched F Deven Sideroff (ill), D Conner McDonald, F Matt Revel (shoulder), F Jesse Zaharichuk (flu) and D Marc McNulty. . . . With four 20-year-olds on the roster, the Blazers have to scratch one per game. Last night, they scratched McNulty and used D Ryan Rehill, F Matt Needham and F Luke Harrison. . . . Each WHL team has to declare a maximum of three 20-year-olds by Thursday. . . . Victoria has taken six straight Saturday games from the Blazers.
Blazers turning into heartbreak kids
Heartbreak? You want to see some heartbreak?