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Kamloops-Kelowna series closer to reality

Blazers need one point for third-place finish
March 13, 2016 9:18 P.M.
The Kamloops Blazers may end up going against the Kelowna Rockets in the opening round of the WHL's 2016 playoffs. (Graphic: whl.ca)

A first-round WHL playoff series between the Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets is a step closer to reality after Sunday’s games.
While the Blazers were idle, the Rockets, Victoria Royals and Prince George Cougars all played.
The Royals beat the visiting Cougars 4-3, while the Rockets dropped a 6-4 decision to the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash.
The Royals (47-16-6) lead the WHL’s overall standings with 100 points, four more than the Rockets and Brandon Wheat Kings. The Royals and Rockets each have three games remaining, including a Wednesday night clash in Kelowna.
The Rockets (46-19-4), then, are close to finishing second in the B.C. Division, which would set up a first-round match with the third-place team, which, at least for now, is Kamloops.
The Blazers (36-25-9) have won seven straight games and nine of 10, and that charge has lifted them into third place, four points ahead of the Cougars (36-29-5).
Kamloops and Prince George both have played 70 games and will wrap up the regular season by going home-and-home this weekend. They’ll play here on Friday and in Prince George on Saturday.
All the Blazers need is one point to guarantee a third-place finish. In other words, a loss in OT or a shootout would be enough.
In order for the Cougars to finish third, they would have to beat the Blazers in regulation time in both games. Were that to happen, they would be tied for third, but the first tiebreaker is victories and the Cougars would have the edge, 38-36.
Should the first-round matchup feature the Blazers and Rockets, chances are the series would begin with games in Kelowna on March 24 and 25.
However, because of uncertainty involving the Blazers’ home dates that only is speculation. With the IIHF Women’s World Championship in the Sandman Centre from March 28 through April 4, the WHL and the Blazers are having to explore options for first-round dates. Only the nights of March 30 and April 2 are open to the Blazers in their home arena during the women’s tournament.
There has been speculation that the Blazers could end up playing at least some home games at Memorial Arena, which has been with us since 1948. However, that isn’t etched in stone, at least not yet.
The Rockets went 5-2-1 in the season series with the Blazers, who finished 3-4-1. Of course, Kamloops won the last three meetings between the teams, winning 3-2 at home on March 4, 3-2 in Kelowna on March 5 and 4-3 in OT in Kelowna on Friday.
Kamloops and Kelowna last met in the playoffs in the spring of 2013, which was the last time the Blazers qualified for post-season play. The Blazers swept that best-of-seven second-round series on their way to the Western Conference final, where they were beaten in five games by the Portland Winterhawks.
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The U-18 Delta Hockey Academy Wild, including D Luke Zazula, who may be the Blazers’ No. 1 prospect, won the Canadian Sport School Hockey League Prep Division championship on Sunday, beating the Burnaby Winter Club Bruins, 6-4, in the final in Penticton. . . . Wild F Brodi Stuart, another Blazers prospect, scored once in the final. . . . With the Wild’s season over, both players are free to join the Blazers. . . . Zazula had one assist in three games with the Blazers earlier this season. Stuart practised with the team but didn’t get into any games.

Gordon Harris says:
March 14, 2016 06:35am

The only problem playing at Memorial is how many Blazer season ticket holders have tickets for the Women's.

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