Ethan Brandwood, a summertime ocean angler, and his defence partner Quinn Schmiemann are tasked with reeling in three big fish this spring, a Vancouver Giants’ trio that fights like hell.
These lunkers — first-round Boston Bruins’ draft pick Fabian Lysell, Ottawa Senators’ prospect Zack Ostapchuk and triggerman Adam Hall — sunk the Everett Silvertips in Round 1 of the WHL post-season, combining for 41 points in six games in an astounding upset of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Blazers’ top pairing, which cast an unyielding net when the No. 8 seed Giants were in the River City on the weekend for the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal derby, was pivotal in limiting the Vancouver trio to two points in a pair of victories at Sandman Centre — 3-1 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday.
“I’ve got his back and I know that he has mine,” said 20-year-old Schmiemann, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound left shot from Wilcox, Sask. “He’s a good buddy of mine and we have a good deal of confidence in each other. I love playing with him.”
The pairing was formed at the start of the 2021-2022 season, but the relationship hatched three years ago, while Brandwood was paying his dues as a seventh defenceman on a deep blue line, occasionally slotting in at forward.
“Even looking back to my 17-year-old year, being in and out of the lineup, he was a guy that would always come and pick me up,” said Brandwood, a 6-foot-1, 184-pound right shot from Victoria who turned 20 on May 9.
“I just had to focus on what I could control. We had a great D-corps. Not much I could do about it. I just tried to learn from those guys, pick a bit from each of their games and add it to mine.”
Vancouver, which separated Lysell from Ostapchuk and Hall in Game 2, will have last change in games 3 and 4, which are slated for Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, at Langley Events Centre.
The Blazers will change on the fly to land favourable matchups, said associate coach Mark Holick.
“Do I like to fish? Yeah, I love to fish,” Holick said. “I share some pics with Brando. We share fishing stories and pictures lots.”
The Spokane Chiefs are stuffed and on the wall.
“They get a tough assignment every single night and they’ve accepted the challenge and done quite well,” said Holick, whose No. 2 seed Blazers swept the No. 7 Chiefs in four games in Round 1.
“You look at the Spokane series, too, with McCarry, Hughes and Bertholet. Geez, they only got three goals the entire series, Spokane. It was a tough go for those guys, as well.”
The Blazers have the No. 1 penalty kill in the playoffs, its top unit of Schmiemann, Brandwood, Fraser Minten and Daylan Kuefler helping the club click at 96.8 per cent (30-of-31).
Vancouver is 0-for-8 on the power play this series after connecting at 37.5 per cent (12-of-32) against Everett.
Schmiemann and Brandwood are only part of the stingy story, with team defence and great goaltending from New York Rangers’ prospect Dylan Garand also to be credited for the Blazers allowing seven goals in six post-season games, while scoring 30.
But they are anchoring the boat — and pro scouts are charting progress.
Schmiemann, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick in 2019, was discouraged when the NHL club did not offer him a contract.
“But at the same time, I think it was a blessing in disguise,” said Schmiemann, who fared well for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in American Hockey League exhibition action last October. “You’ve got all 32 teams looking at you again. The pro game is a thinking game. I just tried to be a sponge when I was there and soak up all the information and bring it back to Kamloops with me.”
Schmiemann had 54 points, including 14 goals, in 58 regular season games, along with a plus-24 rating, and has more offensive upside than Brandwood, a stay-at-home stalwart who recorded six goals and 26 points in 68 games, along with a plus-46 rating.
“We’re both really strong in the D-zone,” said Brandwood, who set the tone in Game 1, luring in Ostapchuk and flattening him with a thundering bodycheck. “Schmee can kind of play a bit more offensive. We complement each other really well. Our chemistry is really clicking right now.”
They are stoic and composed on the ice, rarely to blame for careless expeditions and indiscretion with the puck.
Said Holick: “They’re intelligent. They’re physical. They move well. They defend hard. It just seemed to kind of morph into that, really. They’re leaders. They’re not real vocal, but certainly, when they talk, there is a meaning to their message, for sure.”
They’re far more carefree away from the rink, like fishing buddies.
“He’s got a good sense of humour,” Schmiemann said. “He’s always cracking up guys in the locker room. He loves to fish. I think I asked him what his dream job was if hockey doesn’t work out and I think he wants to run a fishing charter back in Victoria. I haven’t been a whole bunch, but I like fishin’, too.”
Perhaps they could run it together, but what would they call it?
“I don’t even know. Maybe Two Bros Fishing Lodge or something like that?” Brandwood said. “I don’t know. That would be something.”
Kamloops will be at full strength for Game 3 if top-line forward Luke Toporowski can recover from the shoulder injury he suffered on Friday.
The Giants, who were banged up when they scuttled the injury-plagued Silvertips, added two more to the infirmary on Saturday and will be missing nearly half of their first-choice forwards.
Lysell, Ostapchuk and Hall will be thrashing for their playoff lives, knowing blood will be in the water if the Blazers can harpoon their Giants on Tuesday.
“Trying to hit and pin and eliminate their time and space is one of the biggest things we are trying to focus on,” Schmiemann said.
Added Brandwood: “Just playing them hard each night is what we’ve done the first two games and we’ll have to continue to do that if we want to shut them down.”