Connor Ingram should never have to buy lunch in this town again.
The 18-year-old goaltender stopped 36 shots, 13 of them in the third period, as the Kamloops Blazers snuck past the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 at the Sandman Centre on Monday, stopping a four-game losing skid in the process.
“Ingram really saved his best for the last period and shut the door,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said.
Ingram also provided his teammates with a bit of breathing room in their attempt to claim a WHL playoff spot for the first
time since the spring of 2013. The Blazers, who had been 1-7-1 in their previous nine games, improved to 24-22-8 and now are in sole possession of the 10-team Western Conference’s first wild-card spot, two points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks (26-25-2) and five up on the Tri-City Americans (24-25-3), neither of whom played yesterday.
The Blazers were coming off a 4-0 loss to the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday night, a game that was played before 5,673 fans, the sixth-largest crowd in the facility’s history. After the game, management met with the players, who then held a players-only meeting.
Hay is of the opinion that those meetings had “a big impact” on yesterday’s performance.
“Whenever you have a meeting . . . we weren’t happy with the way we were playing and it had to be put on the table . . . to make sure everybody understands the importance of these last stretch games,” he said. “Everybody had to step up and play better. That’s what the meetings were for.”
Ingram also felt Saturday’s post-game sessions meant a lot.
“It’s a tough league,” he said, pointing out that there are “a lot of young guys” on the Blazers and that “guys have to learn sometimes. I’m one of those guys . . . I’m not a veteran yet. Stuff like that means a lot to a team. it got us back on the right track.”
The Blazers did play better than they had been, and they certainly had more energy than they showed against the Oil Kings.
However, this was a game that often was played at a frenetic pace, something akin to river hockey, and the Blazers made a lot of mistakes with the puck.
“In the third period, we did a better job looking after pucks and getting pucks behind their guys,” Hay said. “But we still have to be better. We’ve got some time to work on things.”
Kamloops doesn’t play again until Friday when it visits the 10th-place Vancouver Giants, who play here the following night.
Calgary turnovers led to a pair of Kamloops goals in the first period.
At 4:13, right-winger Matt Revel took a pass from Jermaine Loewen and beat Calgary goaltender Cody Porter high to the glove side from the left wing after a turnover behind the visitor’s net.
At 13:14, the Calgary power play coughed it up at the Kamloops line, allowing centre Garrett Pilon to hit Collin Shirley with a nifty backhand pass. Shirley, with only three goals in his previous 15 games, went in alone and calmly beat Porter, who made 21 saves, for his 30th goal this season.
When centre Gage Quinney beat Porter with a quick shot from the slot at 13:16 of the second period, the home boys were ahead 3-0 and seemingly in control.
However, the Hitmen made things interesting with two goals 51 seconds apart — centre Radel Fazleev came off the right wing boards and beat Ingram at 17:19 of the second, then defenceman Jake Bean went short-side high from the left side at 18:10.
“When they got those two goals, we were a little scrambly,” Blazers captain Matt Needham said. “To be up 3-0 we were a
little bit lucky. We held it together and (Ingram) made some big saves and we got some big blocks.”
With Needham in the penalty box for tripping at 11:48 of the third, Ingram made two huge stops on Bean and left-winger Carsen Twarynski, while defencemen Dallas Valentine and Cam Reagan both came up with top-notch blocks.
Later, with time running out, Ingram made what may have been a game-saver when he got his right toe on a shot from right-winger Jackson Houck.
“In my opinion, he’s the best goalie in the league and he proves that every night,” Needham said.
Shirley added: “He gives us a chance to win every night. He hasn’t had a lot of bad games . . . he’s always there. My hat’s off to him because he’s been great.”
The Hitmen (31-20-3) finished a four-game B.C. Division trip at 1-2-1. They are third in the Central Division, six points behind the Red Deer Rebels.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,802. . . . The Blazers were 0-for-2 on the power play; the Hitmen were 0-for-3. . . . Kamloops D Nolan Kneen left early in the third period with what appeared to be an injury to his right knee. He was icing it after the game and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday. . . . The Blazers are hopeful that D Ryan Rehill, who has missed seven games, will be ready to return on Friday. . . . Kamloops also scratched F Erik Miller and F Matt Campese. . . . The Hitmen were without F Mark Kastelic, F Bryce Platt and D Jakob LaPointe. . . . The Calgary defence pairing of Bean and Travis Sanheim has combined for 90 points. The Blazers’ seven defencemen have 91 points among them and Rehill has 26 of those. . . . The Hitmen went into this game with a 5-0-0 record in Kamloops over the past five seasons. Calgary beat the host Blazers 4-2 on Oct. 23 in the only other game between these teams this season.
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