Connor Ingram, the Kamloops Blazers’ No. 1 goaltender, knew who was tending the goal at the other end of the Sandman Centre ice surface on Wednesday night.
You bet he did.
It was Carter Hart, NHL Central Scouting’s No. 1-ranked North American goaltender.
In the end, Ingram, who is rated 11 spots behind Hart, and the Blazers were done in by an own goal early in the third period as they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Silvertips, who have at least a point in 11 straight games (9-0-2) and have won each of the past 10 meetings with Kamloops.
The Blazers haven’t beaten the Silvertips since Feb. 7, 2013, when they won 6-0 in Kamloops.
This one came down to two bounces of the puck with the score even at 1-1.
First, the puck hopped over the stick of Kamloops defenceman Ryan Rehill at the Everett blue line, something that
allowed Silvertips centre Matt Fonteyne to scoot down the left side and into the Blazers zone.
Then, after Fonteyne cut to the net, put a deke on Ingram and hit a post with a backhand chip, the puck ended up in the net after going off Rehill’s stick as he and Nolan Kneen attempted to clear it out of danger.
“That’s probably the easiest one I’ve scored,” said Fonteyne of his 11th goal of the season and first game-winner. “I just tried to get it on net and it hit the post. I was frustrated after that and then I kind of looked back . . .”
Asked if he saw the puck go over the goal line, Fonteyne replied: “No, I didn’t. I saw it on the (video screen) after. I thought (right-winger) Brian King scored it . . . I thought he got the rebound.”
It was a tough way for this one to end for the home boys, but especially for Ingram, who stopped 25 shots and at least matched Hart, who finished with 33 stops.
“It happens. That’s hockey,” Ingram said. “You couldn’t do that again if you tried. You could do that 100 times and it would never happen again.”
Kamloops head coach Don Hay didn’t sound too disappointed in the evening’s proceedings.
“I thought it was a heck of a hockey game,” he said. “Both teams played real hard. In the first period, I thought Everett had the advantage . . . second and third periods, we got better and better. We had a really good third period.
“They got a real lucky bounce. We couldn’t overcome that.”
The Blazers scored the game’s first goal, when winger Quinn Benjafield took a nifty backhand pass from Jake Kryski and beat Hart on what was the night’s first shot on goal. Who knew then that Hart, who went in with a WHL-leading 1.92 GAA and came out at 1.90, would stop the last 33 shots he faced?
“He’s a great goalie,” Fonteyne said, “and a great guy. He works so hard. He’s getting the recognition he deserves. He’s always at the rink early doing his ball drills. He deserves everything he’s getting.”
Fonteyne, who is a grandson of Val Fonteyne, who played in the NHL and WHA back in the day, added that it’s wonderful to have a goaltender like that backing you up.
“You have the confidence to try stuff,” he said, “and if you ever mess up you have confidence in the defensive zone that he’s there to back you up.”
Of course, the Silvertips, under head coach Kevin Constantine, don’t mess up a whole lot.
“They’re really competitive,” Hay said. “They’re really well coached. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They have a game plan and they follow that game plan. They don’t give you a lot of room to make plays and they don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The visitors tied the game at 10:15 of the first period when right-winger Graham Millar corralled the puck to Ingram’s right and lifted it over his right shoulder and into the net. At that point, Everett had a 6-1 edge in shots, a difference that would grow to 15-8 early in the second period and was 21-17 going into the third.
Yes, the Blazers outshot the Silvertips 17-6 in the third period but there weren’t a lot of clearcut chances as it seemed Hart was able to see every shot.
“We had our practice (Tuesday) and showed video from how they played last time,” Hay said, referencing a 4-3 overtime loss to visiting Everett on Jan. 2. “We were a little slow getting going (tonight) but we just came off a long trip and I thought we responded pretty well.
“They didn’t do anything to surprise us. They play the same game all the time, whether they’re up or whether they’re
down. They play the same game and compete at a high level that you have to compete at.”
As a coach, Hay said he quite enjoys playing Everett.
“I think Everett makes you a better team,” he said. “It really puts pressure on your team to make good plays and execute at a high level.
“They’re well prepared; they’re well coached. We were ready for them. It was a heckuva game.”
Fonteyne also played a heckuva game. An 18-year-old from Wetaskiwin, Alta., in his third season, he has a career-high 11 goals, four more than he scored last season. He also has 28 points in 44 games; last season, he finished with 16 in 69 games.
“My first two seasons,” he said, “I was on the fourth line and jumped to the third for a couple of games. I got minimum shifts just to get my feet wet. We’re a fairly young team this season, and I’m playing more and playing a bigger role. It definitely feels a lot better to help out the team whenever I can.”
Of course, Ingram has been doing a lot of that lately, too, no matter who’s in goal at the other end.
“You know who’s down there,” he said of Hart’s presence. “You know who you’re running into every night. You know it’s going to be tough (against Everett). We knew they weren’t going to give up a lot of opportunities and that’s the way it was.”
At the same time, Ingram explained, he has to focus on just being himself, rather than trying to convince himself that he has to outplay the other guy.
“You never do that,” Ingram said. “It’s uncontrollable. Control the controllables. I can control how I play, but I can’t control how he plays. I knew it was going to be tough and I knew he was going to be solid.”
Backed by Hart, the Silvertips (28-12-4) are riding high atop the U.S. Division. They now hold a seven-point lead over the second-place Seattle Thunderbirds. Everett also has moved into second spot in the Western Conference, five points behind the Kelowna Rockets.
The Blazers (22-16-7) remain fourth in the B.C. Division and hold down the conference’s first wild-card playoff spot. If things don’t change over the next two months, the Blazers would meet Everett in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have good matches whenever we play them,” Fonteyne said. “The last game went to overtime. They’re a good team. They battle and they score a lot of goals; they’re really good offensively.”
The Blazers are back on the road this weekend as they travel to Prince George for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader with the Cougars (27-17-2). Kamloops returns home to face the Vancouver Giants on Jan. 29 and the Portland Winterhawks on Jan. 30.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance on First Nations Night was 4,380, the largest crowd this season. . . . Prior to last night, the largest crowd was 4,139. That was the count on Jan. 8 when the Blazers beat the Tri-City Americans, 3-2. . . . F Gage Quinney, 20, was back in the Blazers’ lineup after a 12-game absence with an undisclosed injury. . . . The Blazers scratched F Erik Miller, F Spencer Bast and injured D Dawson Davidson. . . . Hart will play in the Top Prospects Game in Vancouver on Jan. 28. . . . Brett Iverson, one of last night’s two referees, worked the championship final at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, on Jan. 5. . . . The Blazers will play in Everett on Feb. 5 and 26 to conclude the season series.
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