It was of no great consequence and good for a laugh, but the beloved Zamboni man was not snickering on Friday at Sandman Centre.
The driver and his ice-cleaning rig were summoned after the anthem to touch up a few spots, sheepishly emerging to razzing that broke tension, with two hockey teams and nearly 5,000 fans anxious to begin the WHL post-season.
The Kamloops Blazers versus the Vancouver Giants in Round 1 was forced to wait one more loop when the seemingly homebound machine was turned away from the open gate, redirected to a patch that remained unsatisfactory in the eyes of officials.
Zamboni man hung his head and circled back, a 45-second detour that surely felt like a return trip to Batchelor Heights, an agonizing few turns for the fine fellow at the wheel whose cat-callers began to bellow sympathetic cheers.
The machine’s back end eventually disappeared into the bowels of the arena, tail between legs, with sweet mercy finally arriving for the downtrodden wheelman.
The merciless Blazers finished the job, wiping the ice with the Giants for most of the next 60 minutes, hitting the gas early in the first period and cruising to an 8-0 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It looks like maybe they missed a spot or something happened with the Zamboni,” said Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston, whose club outshot the visitors 53-15. “I thought the guys did a really good job staying focused. There’s a lot of anticipation. It’s kind of challenging. We had to wait, but the guys were ready to go.”
Vancouver bench boss Michael Dyck told KTW earlier this week of the importance of discipline in the series, a must for his underdog seventh-seed against the No. 2 Blazers and their league-best power play.
Giants’ captain Ty Thorpe was called for tripping at 1:17 of the first period and reigning CHL player of the year Logan Stankoven made the visitors pay, his power-play marker at 2:08 sparking a four-goal first period for the Blazers.
“I think it was a careless stick, but I don’t think there was an intention to trip there,” Dyck said. “Some of the penalties we deserved. Some I thought were questionable. But, at the end of the day, we can’t take that many penalties.”
Kamloops finished 3-for-8 on the power play. Vancouver was 0-for-1.
Emerging Emmitt Finnie extended his point streak to 11 games with his first goal of the post-season, Kamloopsian Dylan Sydor gave his club a three-goal cushion and Tournament Capital product Stankoven notched his second of the game to give Kamloops a 4-0 lead at the first intermission.
“We’re all pretty determined in that room that we don’t want to be the team that loses out in the first round, with hosting the Memorial Cup,” said Stankoven, the Dallas Stars’ prospect who registered three goals and five points in a first-star performance. “We kind of wanted to make a statement here tonight and we’ve got to do the same thing tomorrow night.”
Ryan Hofer, Caedan Bankier and Stankoven — his hat-trick goal coming at 6:12 of the second period — scored to put the game out of reach and chase Giants’ goaltender Jesper Vikman, who allowed seven goals on 22 shots.
Stankoven, 19, has five post-season hat-tricks, including one last April in Game 1 of his club's opening-round series against the Spokane Chiefs, a 9-0 victory at Sandman Centre in which he tallied three goals and two assists.
"Honestly, it was kind of deja vu," Stankoven said. "I think I just have something for playoffs. I get really excited. This could be my last year here in Kamloops, so I'm trying to leave a positive legacy here."
Vancouver backup netminder Brett Mirwald was excellent in relief, turning aside 30 of 31 shots that came his way, his only blemish coming at 17:19 of the third period, when Ashton Ferster rounded out the scoring.
“He gave us a boost,” Dyck said of Mirwald. “I thought he played really well.”
Blazers’ No. 1 netminder Dylan Ernst recorded his first career playoff shutout in his first post-season contest, preserving the goose egg with a breakaway stop on Connor Dale late in the third period.
“I felt really good,” Ernst said. “I was a little bit nervous going into it, but the team played great and at the end of the night, I got the shutout. It was awesome.”
Slew foots, fights, charges – all sorts of penalties and misconducts — and a great deal of lip service highlighted the third period.
“It’s playoffs,” Dyck said. “You’re going to get some emotions running high. I thought for our younger guys, they’re learning what it takes and they dug their heels in, which is a good thing.”
Added Stankoven: “That’s what we preach. We’re brothers in that dressing room, so we’re not going to let guys go untouched if they’re trying to boss us around. We’re going to stand our ground and not do anything too dumb or something that could cost the team.”
Olen Zellweger racked up four assists and Bankier added two helpers in his three-point night.
Blazers’ forward and Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Fraser Minten was a late scratch on Friday. Clouston said he is day-to-day and might be available to play in Game 2, which is slated to get underway at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Sandman Centre.
The Giants will be looking to start on time, along with the Zamboni man.
“We’ve just got to respond now,” Dyck said. “This one’s over. We’ve got to learn from this and come out with a better effort tomorrow.”