In an ideal world, goalkeeper Dylan Garand of Langford and defensemen Sean Strange of Saanich and Ethan Brandwood of Victoria would chase the title in the Western Hockey League and national championship in the Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers built for the moment.
But the pandemic thwarted those dreams. The Consolation Prize is the BC Division’s shortened season title and the Blazers (15-4) continued that quest with a 5-1 win over the Victoria Royals on Thursday night at Prospera Place in Kelowna.
As with their 5-2 win over the Royals on Monday, the Blazers missed the injury-related first-round draft pick Connor Zary of the Calgary Flames and Logan Stankoven with Team Canada at the U-18 World Cup in Texas. But that didn’t stop them either. That’s what depth will do for you.
The division championship will boil down to a mathematical formula against the Kelowna Rockets (8-3-1). Since the Rockets will only play 16 games compared to the 22 for the other four teams (out of the originally planned 24), the division crown will be decided on the percentage of points per game. The Rockets were on the team for 19 days last month due to a COVID-19 outbreak. These games will not be rescheduled.
Victoria, who is starting a major overhaul with the youngest squad in the WHL, is experiencing the worst season in franchise history at 2-15-2 and will finish at the bottom of the table. The Royals continued to look to the future by calling their first-round pick Austin Zemlak, a 16-year-old defender who made his league debut on Monday and played again on Thursday, in the first round of the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
“The work ethic is there and we’re gaining confidence every day,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
Kamloops beat Victoria 32-29.
“It was an even game on most metrics, but Kamloops was more opportunistic,” Price said.
“Both teams were tired and broken. But it was still physical with a few fights. “
Kamloops veteran Orrin Centazzo set the tone for the winner with the first two goals. Matthew Seminoff also scored twice. Captain Tarun Fizer scored for Victoria.
New York Rangers contender Garand, who won the silver medal with his Blazers teammate Zary at the 2021 Junior World Championship, scored 28 saves in goal for Kamloops to his 13th win. Outdated starter Adam Evanoff, who allowed four goals, and rookie substitute Keegan Maddocks, who allowed one, made 27 saves for the royals together. They faced 16 shots each.
The Royals close their season account against the Prince George Cougars (9-7-3) on Saturday in Kelowna, against the Vancouver Giants (10-9) on Tuesday in Kamloops and against the hosts Rockets on Wednesday in Kelowna.
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