Caedan Bankier took a seat beside Marcus Foligno in the dressing room prior to an NHL pre-season game, with his Minnesota Wild preparing to square off against the hometown Colorado Avalanche on Sept. 27.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Bankier, a 19-year-old forward from Cloverdale. “I just remember watching him playing growing up and now I’m sharing a locker room stall with him and talking to him before the game, picking his brain about all this little stuff. It was super surreal for me.”
Bankier, whose tenure with the Wild during training camp and the pre-season lasted more than two weeks, was among the NHL camp attendees, along with Matthew Seminoff (Dallas Stars) and Kyle Masters (Minnesota), who returned to the Kamloops Blazers’ lineup in time for a tilt with the Chiefs on Saturday in Spokane.
They were influential in the club — which was missing six NHL camp participants in a season-opening 3-0 loss to Portland on Sept. 23 at Sandman Centre — picking up its first win of the campaign, a 4-2 win over the Chiefs (2-1).
Bankier recorded a goal and two helpers, Seminoff picked up two points, including one goal, and Masters brought a calming presence to the blue line and added an assist.
Blazers’ netminder Dylan Ernst picked up the victory between the pipes, stopping 33 shots to improve his save percentage to .932 after two games.
The Blazers (1-1) are expecting to be without Logan Stankoven (Dallas Stars), Fraser Minten (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Daylan Kuefler (New York Islanders) this weekend, when the Victoria Royals (0-4) come to town for games on Friday and Saturday, both 7 p.m. starts at Sandman Centre.
But the games will give fans a better look at their team than what was offered in the home opener, thanks in part to the return of a trio brimming with confidence after earning pro experience.
Seminoff was with the Stars for more than two weeks, toiling at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, before returning to Texas for training camp sessions in Austin and Dallas.
“In that moment, you don’t really have time to be starstruck,” said Seminoff, who bulked up during the off-season. “You’ve got to get ready to go and perform well if you want to go anywhere.
“The biggest thing I took away is just making it a lifestyle, just everything they do, all the habits they have. It was pretty cool to get a taste of that and pretty motivating for me.”
Bankier, whose Blazers will play host to the 2023 Memorial Cup tournament, is taking lessons learned in Minnesota, including notes taken on togetherness and team unity, into his first home game in Kamloops since a Game 7 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Conference final on May 31.
“Every year is an important year, but this one has a bit more focus on it, from outside noise and stuff, so being back now and being able to focus and getting all the systems back under my belt and being around the guys again, it can help a ton,” Bankier said.
“The goal is to win our way there. We don’t want to be the team that gets in the back door.”
Minten suffered a wrist injury last week, but it is not thought to be serious and there is potential for him to play for the Leafs this weekend, with pre-season games scheduled on Friday in Detroit and Saturday in Toronto.