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Kamloops Blazers burn Chiefs: put heat on the Rockets

The team is just two points back of Kelowna for the final playoff spot with three games remaining

"One team wanted it more," is an overused cliche in the world of sport: an easy way to explain away wins and losses rather than delve into the tactics and moments that decided the game. 

All that being said, it's the only way to properly describe how the Kamloops Blazers throttled the Spokane Chiefs 5-1 on Tuesday.

The Chiefs entered the night 24 points better than Kamloops in the standings, but the Blazers needed a win to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive. Thanks to a big night from Orrin Centazzo, Connor Zary and Zane Franklin, hope is alive and well.

Kamloops came out fast, blocking shots, finishing hits and putting everything on net. They finished the night with a whopping 51 shots on poor Chiefs goalie Reece Klassen.

"Sometimes a high volume of shots doesn't indicate the pace of the game or the domination of a game – and I don't feel we dominated – but we were very purposeful in our o-zone presence," says head coach Serge Lajoie. "The guys did a good job of sustaining pressure and putting pucks in good areas. We knew we wanted to put a lot of pucks on Klassen and force him to handle it and maybe give up some rebounds. Our guys took that to heart and did a good job of generating pucks on net."

Centazzo opened the scoring, winning a footrace with Noah King and sliding the puck past Klassen to open the scoring. Then, on a rush during the Blazers second power play, Zary had a nifty toe drag around a defender before ripping a shot home to double their lead.

"Obviously coming in as the underdogs, we had nothing to lose so we were going in balls out," says Zary. "We came out with the effort tonight and you saw it on the scoreboard."

In the second, Franklin drove on the Chiefs net, but with Jake McGrew draped all over him, he spun around and found a wide-open Ryley Appelt to put Kamloops up 3-0. 

Spokane got one back after Josh Pillar took a slashing penalty. Jaret Anderson-Dolan beat Dylan Garand on a feed from Ty Smith, but that would be it for the Chiefs offence.

Centazzo notched his second goal of the night and third point on a breakaway right before the end of the second period and the Blazers locked it down in the third period.

Zary would add one late as well. Appelt and Franklin also had two-point nights while Jermaine Loewen, Sean Strange, Quinn Schmiemann all had assists. Garand also got in on the scoring with the rare goalie assist, to go along with stopping 27 of 28 shots.

Garand was playing because of an injury to Dylan Ferguson and the shorthanded Blazers had other players step up as well. Playing against his former team, winger Jeff Faith returned to his childhood position of defenceman, finishing the game an even plus/minus with one shot on net.

"We've always had the utmost confidence in Jeff, he keeps it simple, he's a tough guy to play against, you have to know when he's out there as an opponent because he can keep you honest," says Lajoie. "We've really mandated our defenceman to focus on two things: defend and move pucks. We don't need anything fancy from them and Jeff kind of fits that mold."

Lajoie added he also thought it was Schmeimann's best game of the season's second half. 

Now, things get really interesting. With three games remaining on the year, Kamloops is just two points back of the Kelowna Rockets. But because this race is for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, there will be a play-in game should these two be tied at the end of the season.

Home ice for that game would be decided by who has more wins, which the currently Rockets have one more. However, since Kamloops will likely need to pull even in the win category in order to tie things up, it could more likely come down to the second tiebreaker, which is the season series. The Blazers clinched that last weekend.

Currently riding a three-game win streak, Kamloops needs to keep up their winning ways the rest of this week.

"We've just got to stick to the task at hand," says Zary. "Guys get tired and banged up, but we've got an awesome trainer in 'Toledo' (Colin Robinson) and he helps us get ready for whatever game no matter what. So I think we're going to be ready."

After beating the Chiefs tonight, the Blazers will hope for some help from Spokane tomorrow as they head to Kelowna.

Meanwhile, Kamloops hosts Victoria at the Sandman Centre at 7 p.m.


Eric Thompson

About the Author: Eric Thompson

It's 2019 and Eric Thompson still gets paid to write about news. What a world we live in!
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