The grin said it all.
Moments earlier, Kamloops Blazers forward Jermaine Loewen, playing in his 48th career WHL game, had corralled the puck near the right face-off circle in the Prince George zone and wired it past Cougars goaltender Mack Shields.
It was 16:53 of the second period and it increased the Blazers lead to . . . ahh, what does it matter. It was the kid’s first goal. It was a winner.
Just like that Loewen, a fan-favourite, had his first career goal, to go with three assists, all three coming this season; in fact, he picked up one of them last night.
After the goal, Loewen, born in Jamaica and adopted out of an orphanage by Tara and Stan Loewen of Arborg, Man., took his spot at the bench, and shook his head as though he couldn’t believe what had just happened. His grin was as wide as all outdoors.
The Blazers (4-8-0) would go on to a dominant 6-1 victory over the Cougars (6-6-0) at the Sandman Centre, thanks primarily to three first-period goals and some stellar goaltending from Connor Ingram. But this one will be remembered as the game in which Loewen finally scored.
“Oh my, it was the best feeling I have had in hockey that I finally got that goal,” a wound up Loewen said. “Oh man, I just saw the puck and I just released it really quickly. I saw a little hole and I put it in. I was just so pumped. It was such a long time coming . . . in almost two years I hadn’t scored a goal.”
Loewen said he last scored in a competitive game during the 2013-14 season while with the Interlake Lightning, a midget AAA team that plays out of the Interlake region in Manitoba.
“I was so pumped up about it,” Loewen continued, clutching THE puck in his right hand. “My teammates have been really supportive of me and they know it’s been a long time that I haven’t scored a goal. I owe a shoutout to my teammates for always being there for me. They were really wanting the best for me.”
The 17-year-old Loewen was pointless in 37 games last season. He admits now that he wasn’t very sure of himself in his freshman season, which shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing as he’d only been playing organized hockey since he was about 10 years of age.
“It was very tough because I didn’t quite feel comfortable in the game with myself,” he said of the 2014-15 season. “There are still moments in the game when I’m not comfortable. But I feel a lot more comfortable with what I need to do . . . I need to make hits. That’s my job. If I can do that every night, then that’s good.”
Loewen certainly did his job last night, and head coach Don Hay was most appreciative.
“He was really good. That whole line was good,” Hay said, referring to Loewen’s linemates Nick Chyzowski and Quinn Benjafield. “It’s great to see him get rewarded. It’s been over a year and he hadn’t scored. To get a goal and an assist and to be a pain in the butt to Prince Geoerge was really good for him and for his confidence, for the fans and for our team.”
It was also good for Loewen that he scored his first goal in what turned out to be a Kamloops victory
“That was very good,” Loewen said. “I’m just happy that we got the win. I hope our team keeps going forward. It was a nice start and if we play that way way every night it’s going to be good.”
If the Blazers continue to start the way they did last night, they just may be able to make something out of this season.
Kamloops went into the game having been outscored 16-9 in first periods and having led going into the second period only twice in 11 outings. Last night was different, though, as the Blazers blistered Prince George goaltender Ty Edmonds, who came in with a 1.77 GAA, for three goals.
“We talk about (the starts) a lot in the room,” Loewen said. “We don’t want to be behind the 8-ball at the start of the game. If you can get that first goal, instead of always having to come from behind, you have a different mentality.”
The Blazers wasted little time in getting that opening goal, with forward Gage Quinney, while killing a penalty, taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce off the boards in the neutral zone, beating Jansen Harkins to the puck and going in to beat Edmonds. Just like that, at 5:58 of the first period, the home boys had a lead.
“That shorthanded goal was big for us,” Hay said. “It got us started.”
The Blazers stretched it to 2-0 at 10:41 after defenceman Ondrej Vala made a good pinch at the Prince George line to keep the puck in the zone. It resulted in a rebound goal that was credited to Jesse Zaharichuk but may be changed to Matt Campese.
It very well could have been 3-0 less than a minute later but a quick whistle negated what looked to be another goal by Zaharichuk.
Instead, the locals waited until 18:23 to move out front 3-0, this goal coming from centre Matt Needham, who roared down the left wing and around defenceman Joel Lakusta before tucking the puck through Edmonds for his third goal of the season.
You can’t look back at the first period and that 3-0 lead without noting the play of Ingram. He stopped 13 shots and three or four of those were red-light preventers. In the game’s first five minutes he got his right toe on a shot from Jared Bethune and his blocker on a shot from Jesse Gabrielle. Later, he stoned Brad Morrison from the slot and got his right arm on a shot from Chase Witala as he steamed in alone.
“Ingram played really well in the first period,” Hay said. “He made some important saves to help us get going. And the shorthanded goal was big for us.”
Ingram finished with 37 saves but, when it was all over, he wanted to talk about Loewen.
“I love it. I liked it a lot,” Ingram said. “It was just awesome. I think that’s the loudest I’ve seen the rink in my (time) here. You want to see everybody have success like that. It’s fun.”
Bethune ruined Ingram’s shutout bid with a power-play goal at 8:42 of the second period but that’s as close as the visitors got.
Matt Revel, Loewen and Deven Sideroff, the latter with his first goal of the season, finished the scoring.
“We wanted to try to be more of a presence around the net,” Hay said, “and I thought we really did a good job going to the net, staying at the net, competing there. It paid off for us.”
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,385. . . . Edmonds gave up three goals on 14 shots, with Mack Shields coming on to start the second period. He stopped 20 of 23 shots. . . . The Blazers were 1-for-4 on the PP; the Cougars were 1-for-5. . . . The Blazers scratched D Nolan Kneen (U-17 World Hockey Challenge), F Erik Miller, F Spencer Bast and D Cam Reagan. . . . The Cougars scratched D Tate Olson, a seventh-round selection by the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL’s 2015 draft, with an undisclosed injury. They also scratched D Luka Zorko, D Max Martin, F Jordan Ross and F Justin Almeida. . . . Among the pre-game tunes for this one: Andy Williams crooning Moon River. . . . This was the first of 10 games between these teams this season. The first three will be played in Kamloops, with the Cougars here again on Nov. 7 and 15. . . . The Blazers are at home again Friday, this time to the Lethbridge Hurricanes (10-2-0), who have the WHL’s best winning percentage (.833) after beating the Giants 5-2 in Vancouver last night.
Oh my . . . Loewen finally scores first goal
The grin said it all.