Logan Stankoven told KTW prior to Game 3 of the hostile environment in ShoWare Center, of how Seattle Thunderbirds’ fans take pride in welcoming his Blazers to the ice with a chant — “Kamloops sucks! Kamloops sucks!”
The inhospitable refrain still echoed on Tuesday when Stankoven lit the lamp 27 seconds into the opening frame, his league-leading 15th goal and 26th point of the post-season continuing the trend of Kamloops opening the scoring in this best-of-seven Western Conference final.
“It was huge,” said Stankoven, whose fourth hat-trick in 13 playoff games paced the Blazers to a 6-3 victory. “If you get the first goal, first couple goals, it kind of quiets the crowd down a bit. It was a great atmosphere tonight, but a great start was key and, hopefully, we can do it again tomorrow night.”
Kamloops leads the series 2-1, with Game 4 slated for Wednesday in Kent, Wash., at the ShoWare Center.
Matthew Seminoff tallied at 8:06 of the first period in Game 1 and Stankoven scored at 1:09 of the opening stanza in Game 2. In those contests, both of which took place in Kamloops on the weekend, Seattle replied with the next goal.
That trend did not continue in Game 3.
Daylan Kuefler, whose face looks slightly less ogreish in recent days, with wounds incurred in Rounds 1 and 2 healing nicely, gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at 11:21, a power play marker.
The Stettler, Alberta, product set up shop in front of Thunderbirds' goaltender Thomas Milic and tipped in a Quinn Schmiemann point shot.
“Yeah, at the beginning, we hear the “Kamloops sucks!” said Kuefler, who registered two goals in a first-star performance. “It’s funny. It’s good. Me, personally, it’s in one ear and out the other. I’m focused and ready to play.”
Both teams finished 1-for-3 on the power play.
Dallas Stars’ prospect Stankoven gave his club a three-goal cushion and expanded his lead atop the post-season scoring race 18 seconds after Kuefler’s goal.
Milic fumbled a Luke Toporowski shot to the 5-foot-8 Kamloopsian powder keg, who poked home his 16th goal and 27th point of the playoffs.
“Pretty bad start,” T-Birds’ head coach Matt O’Dette said. “You can’t come out of the gates like that. We gave up one on the first shift and spotted them a three-goal lead.
"You have to be aware of where he is on the ice. Some of our guys that were tasked to play against that line didn’t have good nights. He’s a dangerous player. We have to find ways to slow him down.”
To the credit of the boisterous Kent crowd, it stayed behind its club and was rewarded late in the first period, when top-prospect D-man Kevin Korchinski beat a screened Dylan Garand.
And so the chorus — “Kamloops sucks! Kamloops sucks!” (the Kent ensemble performs for all teams, perhaps most fervently when Portland is in town) — began once more, worked creatively into Seattle’s go-to song, Rock ’n’ Roll Part 2.
Kamloops led 3-1 at the first intermission.
The uncongenial salute, delivered through more than a few beer-coated mouths on 2-for-1 Tuesday, accompanied the visitors onto the ice for the second period.
"I don’t know if they think they’re hurting us or whatever, but all the boys love it," Schmiemann said. "It gets the boys fired up for the game.”
Jared Davidson spurred sweet libations for the T-Birds’ faithful at 13:25 of the second period, pouncing on a loose puck Garand was unable to smother and scooping it home for his eighth goal of the playoffs.
Schmiemann gave them something to sip on less than five minutes later, a point shot that blew by a screened Milic to restore the two-goal cushion.
“Yeah, it was a seeing-eye point shot that got directed on the way by our own stick and that kind of deflated us a little bit when the ice was pretty tilted in our favour,” O'Dette said.
Added Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston: “It was a really big goal. They got one late in the first to make it 3-1. They score another one. It feels a lot different. That goal gave us just a little bit of a cushion.”
Garand made 27 saves to pick up his 10th victory of the post-season. Milic turned aside 23 shots in defeat.
Kamloops led 4-2 at the second intermission.
The Blazers took the ice for the third period, serenaded by a good portion of the 4,684 in attendance, the choir in full voice and offering its Tournament Capital-specific rendition of the disgraced pop star’s mega-hit sports anthem.
“Yeah, I actually love it,” Schmiemann said. “Even before the game, when we’re skating around, it gets me fired up."
Fraser Minten dished to Kuefler for his second goal of the night at 13:16 of the third period.
“It’s a tough barn to play in,” said Kuefler, who has six goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games. “Real proud of the boys. We found a way.”
Matthew Rempe brought the crowd back to full throat with a power-play goal at 16:13, but Stankoven ripped its tongue out with an empty-net marker at 18:45, his 17th goal and 28th point in 13 post-season games.
“We want to play the same way and you don’t want to look too far ahead, but it would be huge going home with a 3-1 series lead,” Stankoven said. “We know they’re going to want to come out hard tomorrow in this building and tie the series up.”
O'DETTE TALKS ABSENCE
T-Birds’ head coach O’Dette did not make the trip to Kamloops for Games 1 and 2.
“I’m not going get into injuries or illnesses and things like that,” O’Dette said. “Ultimately, health and safety comes first and we were operating with strict precautions.”
The Blazers earned a 5-2 victory on Friday in Game 1. Seattle responded with a 4-1 win on Saturday in Game 2.
“It was frustrating,” O’Dette said. “It was very tough to watch from home and watch online. It’s very nerve-racking and not to be there with your team, it hurts, but I thought our coaching staff and players did a good job just kind of rolling with the punches and being resilient, which we’ve done all year.”