At night’s end, Don Hay was smiling.
However, that hadn’t been the case for two periods of Saturday’s WHL game at the Sandman Centre.
No, for a lot of the first two periods the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers was either shaking his head or looking at the floor, as though checking to make sure his shoes were tied.
That’s because his team appeared to have checked its work ethic at the door when it reported for the game against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
In the end, though, a third-period comeback — the Blazers scored four times in 5:14 to erase a 3-1 deficit — provided the
home team with a 5-3 victory and allowed Hay to crack a smile.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “Why can’t we make it easy?”
Understand that these aren’t the Oil Kings of recent vintage, the team that made three straight trips to the WHL’s championship final (2011-14) and won two of them and a Memorial Cup title. Rather, these Oil Kings struggle to score, now are 8-14-3 — they went 1-5-0 on a six-game trek through the B.C. Division — and are trying to find their place in the world.
But it was these Oil Kings who scored two late second-period goals to take a 3-1 lead over a home side that looked indifferent for much of the time.
“We got off to a pretty good start,” Hay said. “We got the goal and then it was like we backed off a little bit and you just can’t afford to back off.”
Right-winger Deven Sideroff put the Blazers out front at 8:36 of the first period and that goal held up until left-winger Davis Koch countered for the Oil Kings at 15:04.
The teams then settled into a yawnfest of a second period until the Oil Kings stunned the Blazers and the crowd with goals from centre Tyler Robertson, at 17:37, and defenceman Brayden Gorda, who got his first WHL goal with 19.5 seconds left.
“I don’t know. It’s tough to pinpoint one thing,” said Kamloops defenceman Ryan Rehill, who had two assists and was terrific for a third straight game. “We came out well in the first 10 minutes. We scored that goal and it’s been happening lately where we’ve been taking a couple of shifts off, take a little bit off the gas, after we score a goal. That’s obviously something we have to work on.
“We struggled in the second and they capitalized on a couple of scoring chances. We responded really well in the third. Everybody came out with a great effort, everybody brought more to the table and we found a way to get the points.”
Hay added: “I wish we wouldn’t get down like that. I wish we would go out and get the lead and play with the lead and keep on going. Early on, it was two tentative teams looking for a way to get the goal to go ahead. They scored the two quick ones at the end of the second . . . we came in, regrouped and responded well.”
Yes, they did.
The comeback began at 4:26 when Czech defenceman Ondrej Vala scored his first WHL goal, in his 21st game, his point shot through traffic beating goaltender Patrick Dea, who never saw it.
Just 78 seconds later, left-winger Collin Shirley, who also had two assists, got to a loose puck in the crease and poked it in for his team-leading 16th goal.
At 7:03, it was centre Nick Chyzowski scoring his seventh goal to give the Blazers a 4-3 lead, his 45-foot snapshot beating Dea cleanly to the glove side.
When centre Gage Quinney rifled a 25-footer over Dea’s left shoulder at 9:40, the Blazers — all of a sudden — had a 5-3 lead and school was out.
Asked what was said in the dressing room after the second period, Rehill replied: “Don came in and said we need to be better, that it was a huge game, a huge two points for us . . . Everybody got focussed and got ready and everybody came out and played the best period of the game.”
So where was that for the first two periods?
“No kidding,” Rehill said with a rueful chuckle. “That’s obviously something we have to get better at . . . playing a full 60
minutes and playing every team the same, bringing the same effort every night and being more consistent.”
The Blazers also got some help, as has become the norm, from their goaltender. But, in this instance, it was freshman Dylan Ferguson, who was making his third career start, all of them at home. He now is 2-3-0. The 17-year-old from Lantzville, B.C., stopped 33 shots, including all 16 he faced in the third period.
“Ferguson made some key saves in the third,” Hay said. “I thought he was real steady for us. He gave us a chance to come back and get the win.”
And, in the end, Hay was smiling as he talked about that third period.
“We really competed hard in the third period,” he said. “I would like to see us put 60 minutes together like that. We were a little bit light in the second period. We were more determined with more effort and more competitiveness in the third period. . . . It was a really good effort from the guys to get the win. It was a big win . . . that was a big win for us to stay in the hunt.”
The Blazers (10-8-3) now are 7-0-3 over their last 10 outings. With 23 points, they are in possession of the 10-team Western Conference’s first wild-card playoff spot.
They are fourth in the five-team B.C. Division, two points behind the Prince George Cougars (12-9-1). The Blazers will practise this week and then play a Friday-Saturday doubleheader in Prince George. The Blazers are 3-0-0 against the Cougars this season, with all three games having been played in Kamloops.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 4,017. . . . Dea finished with 25 saves. . . . The Blazers were 0-for-4 on the power play; the Oil Kings were 0-for-2. . . . The Blazers scratched F Jake Kryski, F Matt Needham and D Dallas Valentine, all with undisclosed injuries, and F Spencer Bast. . . . Quinney had a goal and an assist, but obviously was labouring and at times wasn’t able to put much weight on his left leg. He sat out Friday’s 4-3 OT loss to the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Edmonton went without G Alec Dillon, F Garan Magnes, D Anatolii Elizarov and F Branden Klatt, all of whom are injured, and D Chance Patterson and F Colton Kehler. Elizarov, a freshman from St. Petersburg, Russia, had been a rock on the Oil Kings’ back end before he went down with an injury on Nov. 14 in Prince George. . . . Dillon, who appeared set to go the NCAA route before joining the Oil Kings in the off-season, is out long-term with an undisclosed injury. . . . The Blazers are off this week until heading north for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader with the Prince George Cougars. . . . Kamloops next plays at home on Dec. 1 against the Kootenay Ice.
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