The next time you are in the Sandman Centre for a WHL game featuring the Kamloops Blazers, keep an eye on goaltender Connor Ingram.
Of course, it’s hard not to when he turns in an effort like he did Saturday, his 41-save performance carrying the Blazers to a 4-2 victory over the Portland Winterhawks.
The time to pay special attention to Ingram, though, is after he has made a terrific save, or after the opposing goaltender
has done the same.
Last night, both goaltenders — Adin Hill stopped 39 shots for Portland — were marvellous. Each made a number of amazing saves, but two in particular were stunners.
At 8:14 of the first period, with the Blazers leading 1-0, Ingram pushed across from his left to right and took a seemingly gaping net away from Portland right-winger Alex Schoenborn, who had taken a delicious cross-ice pass from defenceman Caleb Jones.
It was Hill’s turn at 1:36 of the second period, when he took what seemed to be a sure goal away from Kamloops right-winger Deven Sideroff with a stupendous glove save.
Ingram said he felt his stop on Schoenborn was “probably” his best of the night.
“That one looked the coolest, I think,” he said with a laugh.
Yes, it turns out that Ingram, just like the spectators, takes time to watch the replays on the video board.
Yes, he said, he does like to take a peak.
“Always,” Ingram said. “You always watch. I try to play it off like I’m not watching. You have to act as cool as possible.”
So . . . did he watch the replay of Hill’s glove save?
“That was huge. You have to give the guy credit,” Ingram said. “That was fun to watch.”
And so it went in this one, Ingram, an 18-year-old from Imperial, Sask., who wasn’t selected in the 2015 NHL draft but
now is being noticed by scouts, matching saves with Hill, a 19-year-old Calgarian who was taken by the Arizona Coyotes in the third round of the 2015 draft.
“Whoo! Was he good!!” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said of Ingram, who improved his record to 20-10-8.
Ingram had quite a weekend, considering that a sore knee had made him at least questionable for two games. He was injured during a 9-4 loss to the host Prince George Cougars on Jan. 22 and didn’t even dress the next night for what turned out to be a 6-1 loss.
Even at that, Ingram said he didn’t think the injury “was too bad.” But with the knees being so important to a goaltender, precautions were taken.
“I started feeling better as soon as the weekend ended. It didn’t feel too bad. It didn’t swell up or anything,” Ingram said, adding that he “took it pretty easy” on Monday and Tuesday.
He also felt “right from the get-go” that he wouldn’t miss any playing time.
“Once we got the MRI done (on Tuesday) and it wasn’t what we thought,” he said, “it was good from there.”
And what did he think “it” was?
“I didn’t know what it was,” he said with another laugh. “I’m not a doctor.”
Of course, Ingram ended up going the distance in both games, meaning he now has started 41 of his team’s 49 games.
On Friday, he stopped 40 shots as the Blazers dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the visiting Vancouver Giants.
“I didn’t think we played too bad,” Ingram said of that loss. “You’re not going to win many games when you let in four. I put that on myself. I knew I was going to have to be better tonight.”
Still, the Blazers appeared headed to overtime for a second straight night after Portland forged a 2-2 tie on defenceman Jack Dougherty’s power-play goal at 15:13 of the third period.
However, Jake Kryski of the Blazers broke the tie at 17:47, taking a pass from Sideroff and firing a shot over a sprawling defender that beat Hill high to the glove side from the left wing. That was Kryski’s ninth goal this season and his third game-winner.
The Blazers, though, weren’t out of the woods. Defenceman Ondrej Vala, who was serving an interference penalty when Dougherty scored, was penalized for delay of game at 18:22. With the faceoff in the Kamloops zone, the Winterhawks pulled Hill to get a 6-on-4 advantage.
Kamloops centre Nick Chyzowski keyed the penalty kill, blocking a shot and then picking off an errant Dominic Turgeon pass that led to an empty-net clincher by left-winger Collin Shirley with 40 seconds left to play.
“What I really liked was how we bounced back and got that winning goal,” Hay said. “We could have really sagged” after giving up the power-play goal, he added, “but we really pushed hard and that was a big goal for us.”
Chyzowski’s 11th goal of the season, on a power play at 3:51 of the first period, had put the home boys up 1-0 and centre Garrett Pilon, who was one of the better players on this night, notched his 12th goal at 2:27 of the second for a 2-0 lead.
But the Winterhawks, who as Ingram noted have a lot of “speed and skill,” got a goal from Schoenborn at 4:06 of the second and then, of course, Dougherty scored to set the stage for Kryski.
“That was a big win . . . a big win,” Hay said.
The victory allowed the Blazers to snap a four-game losing skid (0-3-1). The Blazers (23-18-8) remain in possession of the 10-team Western Conference’s first wild-card spot. They are sixth in the conference, two points ahead of the Winterhawks (25-23-2).
However, under the WHL’s playoff format, what matters is that the Blazers are fourth in the B.C. Division. For them to move out of the wild-card race, they would have to get to third; they are nine points behind Prince George.
At the same time, the Blazers are three points ahead of the Spokane Chiefs (23-20-5), who hold down the second wild-card spot. The Chiefs are one point behind the Winterhawks.
Confused? You aren’t alone.
Perhaps the best thing to do is tear a page out of the players’ book.
“We aren’t looking at (the playoff picture) at all,” Ingram said. “It’s obviously in the back of everybody’s mind but right now it’s just keep it on track and keep our game going until we get there.”
The Blazers now will head south of the border for games against the Tri-Citiy Americans (Tuesday), Seattle Thunderbirds (Wednesday) and Everett Silvertips (Friday). Kamloops returns home to face the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday, 5 p.m.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,917. . . . Portland was 1-for-5 on the power play; the Blazers were 1-for-1. . . . The Blazers scratched D Ryan Rehill (undisclosed injury), F Quinn Benjafield and F Jermaine Loewen. . . . Portland F Paul Bittner, one of the league’s top power forwards, continues to recover from hip surgery. The Winterhawks are hopeful that he will return in time for the playoffs. He was a second-round selection by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL’s 2015 draft. . . . The Blazers won the season series 3-0-1; the Winterhawks were 1-2-1. Portland didn’t lead for even one second during any of the four games, but still picked up three points, thanks to a shootout victory and an OT loss. . . . Kamloops went 6-4-4 in January.
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