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Blazers celebrate Memorial Cup bid win with epic playoff victory

Seattle seemed to have more life in its legs in the first extra session and looked likely to score a goal that would have secured one of the most unique road victories in league history — party-pooper bird droppings on a star-studded Memorial Cup hootenanny in pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference final
Daylan Kuefler scores in OT_7124
Daylan Kuefler pounced on this loose puck and scored in overtime on Friday at Sandman Centre.

Jermaine Loewen wrenched with all his considerable might on the pre-game pump-up siren, turning it with such vigour that he dismantled the sound-making device just as it began to whirr.

Groans (was it a bad omen?) from the crowd of more than 5,000 turned to laughter and quickly morphed into rabid cheering when Loewen — the 6-foot-2, 220-pound power plant — held the defeated machinery above his head, a trophy presented on Friday to the Sandman Centre mob.

“Just a little bit of embarrassment, but also, like, this is funny, this is cool,” Loewen said with a laugh. “I was just cranking it as hard as I could and the next thing you know I look down and the siren just breaks on me.”

Blazer Nation was told of the club's successful 2023 Memorial Cup bid moments before J-Train's hardware handiwork.

A few stirring, spellbinding, contentious hours later, the Kamloops Blazers inched one step closer to hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

The Blazers — on a night that was so picture perfect for the organization it makes you wonder if late team president Don Moores had a heavenly hockey hand on the outcome — scraped out a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Kamloops leads the best-of-seven series 3-2, with Game 6 slated for Sunday in Kent, Wash.

“I think it’s got to be at the top,” said Daylan Kuefler, explaining the game-winner in OT, his second marker of the night, is the biggest goal of his career to date. “That was a pretty special moment.”

The Blazers trotted out onto red carpet majority owner Tom Gaglardi and two alumni, NHL Hall of Famers Jarome Iginla and Scott Niedermayer, among others, for a pre-game ceremony, heavy-hitter offerings for a fan base that came expecting a major announcement.

“Lots of good memories here in Kamloops, Memorial Cup memories,” said Niedermayer, whose pass to Zac Boyer set up an iconic tournament-winning goal in the 1992 major junior national championship. “I heard the news they were going to be hosting next year and they asked me to come up just to be part of it. I was glad to do it.”

The siren incident did not go unnoticed.

“Yeah, I was on the ice and I look up and see him holding onto it,” said Kuefler, laughing at Loewen’s act of accidental vandalism. “I cracked a little smile. I’m not going to lie. I was trying to stay focused, but I was smiling pretty good.”

There was a hockey game to play and it was a fairly important one and the visitors appeared more ready for it when it began.

Seattle outshot Kamloops 12-6 in the first period and opened the scoring at 1:51, when Dallas Stars’ prospect Conner Roulette solved Blazers’ goaltender Dylan Garand, a New York Rangers’ prospect.

“I honestly thought we were a little tight at the beginning of the game,” Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston said. “It was pretty emotional and it potentially had an effect.”

Matthew Seminoff netted his sixth goal of the post-season at 6:44 to ensure his club reached the first intermission on level terms with the T-Birds.

“It looks like our team is a little tight,” Gaglardi told KTW during the break. “Seattle is playing looser, a little better. I’m happy to get out of that period 1-1.

“We were worried about this. That’s why we actually told our team yesterday to try to wear off the shock. They’re kids and we didn’t want to surprise them right before game time.”

NHL prospects Lukas Svejkovsky (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Henrik Rybinski (Washington Capitals) did not play in Game 4 on Wednesday in Kent, Wash., but both returned to the Thunderbirds’ lineup for Game 5.

Svejkovsky gave his team a 2-1 lead at 2:32 of the second frame.

“I thought we deserved a better fate,” T-Birds’ head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought we played a pretty good hockey game. Maybe the quality of chances we gave up were a little bit high, but I thought, generally, we controlled the game.”

Kuefler, the 212th overall pick in the 2017 bantam draft, registered 38 regular-season goals and tallied his eighth of the post-season less than six minutes after Svejkovsky’s go-ahead marker.

“The fans, that atmosphere … it was awesome tonight,” Kuefler said.

Controversy arrived at 3:54 of the third period, when Connor Levis backhand-swatted a puck out of mid-air and past Seattle netminder Thomas Milic. The call on the ice was no goal, as Levis was ruled to have contacted the puck with a high stick.

“We were checking Ticketmaster and we could see that basically every seat was sold out,” said Levis, who twice assured KTW it was not a high stick. “We knew we were getting Mem Cup and we knew it was going be a really special night. I think we delivered.”

Sandman Centre turned into a madhouse and the temperature escalated with each passing minute during a lengthy video review, with fans watching replays and relaying expert opinions to officials through chants and hand motions.

The no-goal call was overturned.

“Well, to me, if it takes frickin’ 10 minutes to review, it’s pretty inconclusive,” O’Dette said. “I don’t know. The call on the ice is no goal and it takes 10 minutes to review and it gets overturned. I’m not sure. The explanation is a little bit of a head scratcher, to me.

“It was a high stick by them, but then went off our guy’s stick and into the net. I don’t know. I’ll have to look at the rule book there. I don’t know if that constitutes a change of possession or not, but yeah, that was the explanation.”

It was Memorial Cup night and a barn full of Blazers’ fans were yelling for the call to be overturned, so did that have potential to affect the outcome?

“I think so,” O’Dette said. “I think so.

“I think they’re probably feeling the pressure up there and, yeah, sometimes that can happen. If it takes that long to review, to me, that’s inconclusive and the call on the ice should stand. That’s a head scratcher.”

Seattle, which recovered from a 3-1 series deficit to Portland in Round 2, is not short on resolve and proved it when top prospect D-man Kevin Korchinski scored at 10:27 to force overtime.

Garand made 34 saves to pick up his 11th win of the post-season, while Milic stopped 28 shots in a losing effort.

Both teams were 0-for-2 on the power play.

Seattle seemed to have more life in its legs in the first extra session and looked likely to score a goal that would have secured one of the most unique road victories in league history — party-pooper bird droppings on a star-studded Memorial Cup hootenanny in pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

They just couldn’t find the target.

Fraser Minten was denied once before he collected the puck and tried again. He failed again, but his wraparound attempt created a rebound that perked up for Kuefler, whose goal at 5:39 leaves his club one victory shy of reaching the WHL final.

“It’s just a blackout,” said Kuefler, who was smothered by teammates after the OT winner. “You know what’s going on, but it’s a pretty unique feeling. It’s hard to explain.”

OUT EAST

The Edmonton Oil Kings will compete for the WHL title.

Edmonton blasted the visiting Winnipeg Ice 7-1 on Friday to earn a 4-1 victory in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.