Operatic Zamboni driver Jake Caughill is known to pierce tranquil Sandman Centre with song after WHL games, launching into ballads while driving his ice-cleaning machine long after fans have left for home.
He warmed up the pipes early on Friday.
The Kamloops Blazers were being introduced, one by one, on opening night of the 2021 WHL season, a tradition usually accompanied by smoke and lights and red carpet and cameras and, most importantly, humans cheering for their hometown players.
They race out to line up on the blue line. Public-address announcer Bill O’Donovan pounds out their names. They feel good about themselves.
No fans are allowed inside buildings this season, which is taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was incredibly awkward to watch players hear absolutely nothing when their names were called.
Sporadic stick taps made it worse.
“Yeah, Zary!” he yelled.
And he did that for most everybody, altering the hollered name, of course. And they heard him. And they felt good about themselves.
“100 per cent I heard him,” said Zary, who finished with three assists and looked like a player who belongs in the American Hockey League. “Jake’s awesome. It’s nice to have him in the corner cheering for us. At least we have one voice in there cheering loud.”
Kamloops shelled the Vancouver Giants 7-3 on March 26, a date on which a first-round playoff series game might normally be played, but this matchup opened the truncated, 24-contest B.C. Division campaign.
Caughill was heard singing Night Moves by Bob Seger after the game, which was perhaps the most moving moment of the night since the first period.
The tilt didn’t have much bite after the opening frame, most likely because the Blazers bolted out to a 3-0 lead and never looked like losing after that.
Montana Onyebuchi, Matthew Seminoff and much-ballyhooed rookie Connor Levis tallied in the first frame for the home team (well, the home-iest team of the three River City hub squads).
Levis, in his WHL debut, finished with two goals, his second coming in the third period.
“I was definitely a little nervous and anxious before the game,” said Levis, a 16-year-old right-shot from Vancouver. “I felt like I was ready. Once I got that first goal, it helped settle down the nerves and I had to make sure I kept playing my game.”
Seminoff capped a memorable start to his campaign with a third-period marker and a helper to make it three points on the night.
“The whole time you’re at home and you’re kind of nervous about what’s going to happen in the first game of the season, so to get a couple of goals and to get some bounces was definitely nice,” said Seminoff, whose second goal was set up wonderfully by a patient Zary. “It’s super important because it’s my second season and I’m looking to have a better year than last year. That was a good start for myself and the group.”
Tristen Nielsen, who had a dynamic game, Bryce Bader, who also popped, and Eric Florchuk tallied for the Giants on Friday.
Kamloops product Logan Stankoven opened his account, notching a goal and an assist for the Blazers. Quinn Schmiemann also bagged two points, one of each kind.
Drew Sim backstopped Vancouver and made 20 saves in a losing effort.
Dylan Garand was between the pipes for Kamloops, allowing three goals on 22 shots.
Mark Recchi Way, normally a party before the home opener, with face painting and bouncy castles and clowns, was desolate on Friday, eerie and empty.
Dead is how it will look on Saturday night, too, when the Prince George Cougars scurry out of their hub hotel lodging and walk directly across the street for another night of Twilight Zone WHL hockey amid the pandemic, a 7 p.m. start against the Blazers.
Maybe Caughill will be there to liven things up.