The Kamloops Blazers, according to veteran winger Collin Shirley, talk a lot about how they are “never out of the fight.”
In fact, the team has adopted that expression as a motto.
It proved to be true on Tuesday night at the Sandman Centre as the Blazers erased a 4-0 deficit and beat the Spokane Chiefs, 5-4, on Shirley’s goal at 1:42 of overtime.
“That’s kind of our slogan,” Shirley, a 19-year-old from Saskatoon, said, “and that was a great example of it tonight. We
talk about that lots. It worked good for this game. We were down and out but it was a real good team effort to come back.
“Everyone stuck with it and it turned out to be a good result.”
Shirley won it with his team-leading eighth goal of the season.
Interestingly, the goal came with the teams playing 4-on-4 in OT, not 3-on-3 as the new rule demands. The Blazers had ended the third period on the power play — Spokane defenceman Evan Fiala was called for high-sticking at 18:55 — so opened OT with the man advantage for 55 seconds.
A power play in overtime means 4-on-3 hockey, but when the penalized play returns to play the teams are to skate 4-on-4 until the first stoppage when they will revert to 3-on-3. On this night, it didn’t get there.
Kamloops forward Matt Revel, who had two assists, started the game-ending play.
“(Revel) came down the ice on the right side,” Shirley said, “and hit (defenceman Dawson Davidson) with the puck coming in. He eyed up the shot but I was yelling at him. He made a beautiful play over to me and I had the tap in to the open net.”
Shirley was able to split the two Spokane defencemen and the puck followed him through. He was going hard to the right post, but cut back and went across the net. With goaltender Matt Berlin down and out, Shirley tucked the winner into the gaping net.
The Blazers (6-8-0) have won six of their last seven games and have vacated the 10-team Western Conference’s basement. The Vancouver Giants (4-8-3), who have lost six in a row, now trail the Blazers by a point. The Blazers are scheduled to visit Vancouver on Friday night.
The game concluded a five-game homestand for the Blazers, who won four of those games. They next play at home Saturday when the Prince George Cougars come calling.
Last night’s real story, however, was in how the Blazers were able to get this game to extra time.
“After we got a four-goal lead,” Spokane head coach Don Nachbaur said, “I thought we started playing differently. We were trying to be too fancy and they built some momentum with some goals. We didn’t compete. We jumped out of the way on a couple of point shots there.
“But full marks to (the Blazers). They didn’t quit.”
They didn’t, and they also were able to take advantage of an injury to Spokane goaltender Tyson Verhelst. The Chiefs held a 2-0 lead when Verhelst, who has started all 15 of his club’s games, went down at 3:51 of the second period.
The 18-year-old from Kemnay, Man., a small community just west of Brandon, was struck in the jaw by a shoulder belonging to teammate Kailer Yamamoto as he and Kamloops forward Jermaine Loewen cut around the net.
To that point in the game the Blazers had managed four — yes, FOUR! — shots on goal.
“The goalie change for them . . . the young guy hasn’t played very much so we just kept coming,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said.
The young guy would be Matt Berlin, a 17-year-old from Edmonton. He went into last night having played a total of six minutes this season. In those six minutes, he had stopped one of two shots.
“When our goalie got hurt . . . that was the turning point,” Nachbaur said. “We didn’t put any rubber on him. We got too fancy and they took advantage of that.”
With Berlin in, the Chiefs added two quick goals to stretch their lead to 4-0, and they carried that into the second half of the period.
However, the Chiefs were playing their fifth road game in seven nights and it was starting to show. As Nachbaur said, “The trip caught up with us. It was a tough trip. We looked like we were running out of gas in Edmonton (where the Chiefs won 3-1 on Sunday) and we had a nine-hour bus trip to get here Monday.”
On top of that, the Blazers seemed to realize the situation.
“We started getting our feet moving,” Hay said. “We started working. For 30 minutes, we were getting outplayed. We didn’t move our feet. We didn’t compete hard enough for pucks. Once we got moving and got some jump . . . we were able to hold on to pucks.
“The two goals late in the second were very important. The third goal early in the third was really huge.”
Forward Nick Chyzowki started the comeback with his fifth goal at 13:39 of the second period and captain Matt Needham cut the deficit to two at 15:04.
When forward Gage Quinney scored a power-play goal just 23 seconds into the third period, the fans sensed that they were in for quite a finish.
The Blazers tied it at 3:44 when defenceman Ryan Rehill scored on a blast from the point and it seemed only a matter of time until the home side won this one. But despite being outshot 10-4 in the third period, the Chiefs were able to hang on and earn a point for getting into OT.
“The power play really clicked in the third period,” Hay said. “It was a good effort by us in the second part of the game; I wasn’t crazy about the first part of the game.”
It turns out that Hay had a premonition about this one, so he wasn’t completely surprised by the way his team started the night.
“The practice wasn’t very good (Monday),” he said. “That kind of gave me the feeling that something might not be as good as we’d like today. But the ability to stick with it was very important. We just kept going at them.”
The Blazers also got a solid relief appearance from freshman goaltender Dylan Ferguson, who earned his first WHL
victory after three losses. He stopped all 13 shots he faced over 35:33.
“We’re all happy for him,” Shirley said. “We got him the game puck. He had a big smile on his face and it was great to see.”
Ferguson came on after starter Connor Ingram surrendered four goals on 16 shots. He was beaten twice by Dominic Zwerger — although the first of those goals may be changed to Adam Helewka — and once each by Helewka and former Blazers forward Luke Harrison.
The Chiefs (7-7-3) are one game away from completing their second six-game road trip of this young season. They are 3-1-1 on this trek that finishes Saturday in Kennewick, Wash., against the Tri-City Americans.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,336. . . . Kamloops was 2-for-4 on the PP; Spokane was 0-for-3. . . . Davidson also had two assists for the Blazers. . . . The Blazers scratched D Nolan Kneen (U-17 World Hockey Challenge), F Spencer Bast, F Matt Campese and D Patrik Maier. . . . The Chiefs were without F Hudson Elynuik and D Jordan Henderson, both injured, and F Jaret Anderson-Dolan and F Hayden Ostir, both at the WHC. Spokane also scratched F Riley Whittingham and F Taylor Ross. . . . Whittingham is one of four 20-year-olds on Spokane’s roster, along with Harrison, who sat out the previous three games, Helewka, who returned from a pro tryout with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda in late October, and D Jason Fram, the team captain. The Chiefs will make a move to get down to three in the next few days. . . .
D Joe Hicketts, who is from Kamloops, and the Victoria Royals beat the Broncos 3-1 in Swift Current last night. Hicketts’ mother, Lee-Gaye, was there to watch as she completed her WHL Slam — she now has seen a game in every WHL arena. . . .
Darryl Sydor, one of the Blazers’ five owners, returned to practice with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. He will work with the team at home but won’t yet go on the road with it. Sydor, an assistant coach with the NHL team, was away from the team for two months after being charged with second degree driving while impaired on Aug. 21. He pleaded guilty on Oct. 11 and has since served two long weekends in a workhouse. He had his 12-year-old son with him at the time. Sydor spent the end of August and most of September in a rehabilitation centre in California. . . . Michael Russo of the Minneapolis StarTribune spoke with Sydor and Wild head coach Mike Yeo. That is right here. . . .
The NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets have placed former Blazers D Austin Madaisky, 23, on waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. Madaisky has signed with a team in Germany for the remainder of this season. . . . He was a fifth-round selection by the Blue Jackets in the NHL’s 2010 draft. Last season, he had 35 points, 12 of the goals, in 53 games with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons. This season, he has played one game with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.
There’s more WHL news with Taking Note at TheCoachesSite.com. While you’re there, don’t forget to get your free copy of A Coaching Life, an eBook that features eight prominent coaches, including the Blazers’ Don Hay and former Blazers F Ryan Huska.