Kamloops hosted the first tiebreaker with only three of them in the past 10 years as they hosted the Kelowna Rockets. It is also the first time that two rivals have battled in a tiebreaker with wildcards already established. A win for either team would put them on a course in Victoria starting on Friday, the loser would go home. For Kelowna, the situation was much worse in that they are hosting the Memorial Cup next season and a loss would make it tough to give any of these players any playoff experience.
Adam Foote, coach of Kelowna, took over partway through the season and still had a rough go with trying to even make the tiebreaker let alone the playoffs. Kamloops was dealing with a rash of injuries including goaltender Dylan Ferguson, who was signed by Las Vegas and even had a few preseason games there and nine minutes of a game where he surrendered a goal, but still came back to play 49 games with the Blazers, but hasn’t played in several games,
The first period was split into thirds. Kamloops controlled the two thirds as they outshot Kelowna 17-7 with a goal-post and crossbar as two of the shots that didn’t go in. Roman Basram at one point lost his goal stick and incredibly, smothered the puck with his mitts after making yet another save. At the other end, Dylan Gerand was creating magic of his own with a doorstop save in a mix of players. Kelowna had issues with fanning on shots in close. No penalties were called in the first period in a scoreless tie.
To the second, as Kelowna started strong with three shots to one. But it was a costly interference penalty to Kelowna’s that gave a faceoff in the Kelowna zone. On their only power play of the period, Kyrell Sopotyk won the faceoff draw and was able to control the puck out in front of the Kelowna net and past three defenders where he scored on Roman Basram just seconds into the man advantage after a no-goal call by Kamloops as one of their players knocked the net off the mooring. Shortly afterward, Alex Swetlikoff won the faceoff in the Kelowna zone moved it up to Dalton Gally and the puck was wired around the boards where Kaedan Korczak sent it to the front of the net where Mark Liwiski directed it behind Gerand for a tie game. Kelowna was unable to score on their only power play in the period as the two teams remained tied. Kelowna led the shots at 13-7.
As the third period rolled around, Kamloops opened with a 5-1 shot advantage in the first five minutes. Koly Mohr set up the Blazers’ second goal as he and Ryley Applet played a give-and-go outside the Kelowna zone and a pass back to Mohr. Similarly to the first goal, Mohr was able to get in the front of the net with a shot that beat Basran glove side just over six minutes in. Conner Zory scored a shorthanded goal just before the nine-minute mark, which gave Kamloops a 3-1 lead.
Basran thought he had time to make a play to Schael Higson but was stripped of the puck. Kelowna took a penalty, which resulted in a penalty shot. Basran stopped that shot, but less than a minute later, Basran attempted to play the puck behind the net to Dalton Gally and was stripped by Brad Stuart, who wrapped around the net for their fourth goal. Kelowna then switched netminders as James Porter took over.
Kelowna was unable to score on a myriad of chances. In the end, captain Jermaine Loewen scored on the empty net as the Blazers win 5-1. In a fitting tribute to sportsmanship, the two teams shook hands at center ice even though it wasn’t a playoff contest. With a 16-8 shot advantage, the Blazers outshot Kelowna, 41-28; Kamloops took all three stars with Conner Zary, Jeff Faith and Dylan Gerand getting the nod. Kamloops was 1 for 1 on the powerplay while Kelowa was shut out on three chances, two in the third period and surrendered two shorthanded goals and an empty-net goal.
The playoffs will now begin on Friday with seven of eight series. Medicine Hat vs Edmonton Oil Kings will start one day later. The latest a series could go would be Portland versus Spokane as late as Wednesday, April 3. Kamloops buses from to Victoria on Thursday
Starting in the West, Portland over Spokane in six games, Vancouver over Seattle in five, Everett over Tri City in five and Kamloops over Victoria in six.
Out East, Edmonton wins in five over Medicine Hat, Prince Albert over Red Deer in five, Saskatoon in six over Moose Jaw and Calgary over Lethbridge in six. In the first round, there will be upsets as the season series indicates, but like so many, Regular Season and Playoffs are two very different breeds.
Get ready. It’s bound to be a bit exciting.