Saturday, 9 December 2017

Blazers bully Blades

Blades D Jackson Caller, left, fights Blazers LW Jermaine Loewen.
    The Kamloops Blazers made the boards at the SaskTel Centre shake harder than at any point in the current WHL season.
    Just seconds into Saturday’s regular season contest against the host Saskatoon Blades, the Blazers dumped puck into the Saskatoon zone, and Kamloops left-winger Jermaine Loewen, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 221 pounds, hammered a Blades defenceman into the boards behind the Saskatoon goal. Loewen’s thunderous check set the tone for the evening before 4,024 spectators.
    As is the case with any team that is guided by Don Hay as head coach, the Blazers came to assert themselves physically. They finished their checks way harder than any opponent the Blades have likely faced all season.
    The physical play of the high tension Blazers was definitely on the edge, and at times it appeared to be over the edge. There were a few instances where a Blades player got hit a second or two after he passed the puck up ice.
Jermaine Loewen threw high-tension hits for the Blazers.
    When the dust settled, the visiting Blazers hammered out a 4-1 victory.
    Due to seeing the Blazers only once a season, the Blades didn’t seem to know what they were in for and played on their heels for most of the game. There aren’t too many teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, which the Blades are part of, who play a hard hitting style like the Blazers do coming out of the Western Conference.
    Saskatoon missed feisty forward Caleb Fantillo, whose agitating type style would have helped counter some of the Blazers play. Fantillo is out six-to-eight weeks with a knee injury.
    Kamloops cranked up the physical play in the first period, and the boards seemed like they were shaking the whole frame. Loewen, whose play was reminiscent of former Vancouver Giants high tension power forward and former Hay charge J.D. Watt, threw a large share of the thunderous checks with a style that was very on the edge.
    At the 11:45 mark of the first period, the 19-year-old Arborg, Man., product hammered Blades overage captain Evan Fiala into the boards drawing the attention of Fiala’s teammate Jackson Caller, who is an 18-year-old defenceman. 
The Blazers and Blades engage in a second period scrum.
    Caller, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 189 pounds, engaged Loewen in a fight, while Fiala slowly left the ice under his own power.
    Caller hung in with Loewen for a little bit, but the larger Blazers forward overpowered the Blades rearguard and worked him pretty good in the bout. Loewen received a charging minor for hitting Fiala and a fighting major, while Caller was given an unsportsmanlike minor penalty and a fighting major.
    With 1:05 to play, Kamloop’s pressure resulted in a goal from 19-year-old right-winger Luc Smith.
Nolan Maier stopped 25-of-28 shots fired his way in goal for the Blades.
    Blades 16-year-old rookie netminder Nolan Maier had a sensational opening 20 minutes robbing Blazers 17-year-old left-winger Brodi Stuart twice on rushes. After the Blazers scored, Maier turned away Blazers Czech import defenceman Ondrej Vala and made a big glove stop on utility player Tylor Ludwar.
    The Blazers switched to a different part of their game in the second. While Hay’s teams traditionally bring the physical game, they can play with speed and skill and get up and down the ice as well.
    At the 1:43 mark of the second, the Blazers buzzed in the Blades zone causing a net scramble situation. The puck popped out to Blazers 17-year-old defenceman Luke Zazula at the left side of the Saskatoon goal, and he popped home his second goal of the season past a fallen Maier to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
Dylan Ferguson kicks out a shot for the Blazers.
    The Blazers went ahead 3-0 at the 11:53 mark of the second, when captain Nick Chyzowski scored on the power play.
    Kamloops netminder Dylan Ferguson, who saw action in one game with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights this season, was at the top of his game in the second, where the Blades had seven shots but four quality scoring chances.
    With the Blazers holding a 2-0 lead, Ferguson made a stop on a dangerous drive by Blades Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek.
    After the Blazers went ahead 3-0, Ferguson kept the Blades at bay making a glove save on overage star centre Cameron Hebig, denying rookie 16-year-old centre Kirby Dach on a screen shot and turning back star overage left-winger Braylon Shmyr in close before heading into the second intermission.
Libor Hajek had the Blades lone goal on Saturday night.
    The Blazers resumed their physical work in the third. Ludwar nailed Blades 18-year-old right-winger Josh Paterson from behind into the boards in the Saskatoon end, but the hit didn’t result in a penalty.
    Shortly after that collision, Blazers 19-year-old right-winger Quinn Benjafield wiped out Blades Russian import defenceman Mark Rubinchik.
    Saskatoon got life at the 11:21 mark of the third, when Hajek blasted home a mid-range drive to cut the Blazers lead to 3-1.
    The physical play didn’t stop. Blazers 18-year-old defenceman Nolan Kneen nailed Dach with a high hit, and Fiala took down Loewen.
    Fiala was penalized for tripping with 2:06 to play, but the Blades pulled Maier to ice five skaters in order to push for the tie. 
Garrett Pilon, right, celebrates scoring the Blazers fourth goal.
    That allowed Saskatoon product Garrett Pilon to score the rare empty-net, power-play goal for the Blazers with 1:43 to play to round out the final outcome.
    The contest’s tension still seemed high, where the Blazers looked to be going for high hits on three separate occasions but laid off for no contact in the final 1:43.
    Maier turned away 25-of-28 shots to take the setback in goal for the Blades (11-16-2-1). Ferguson stopped 23 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Blazers. The Blazers, who opened the campaign with nine straight losses, are now 14-15-0-1.
    The Blades return to action on Sunday for their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game, when they host their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders (12-11-5-2) at 2 p.m. at that SaskTel Centre.

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