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The tattle of Hastings: They're in one — a look at the Blazers-Royals series

Game 3 of the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference quarter-final series featuring the Kamloops Blazers and Victoria Royals will be played on Tuesday at Sandman Centre, with puck-drop slated for 7 p.m. The series is tied at 1-1.
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Game 3 of the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference quarter-final series featuring the Kamloops Blazers and Victoria Royals will be played on Tuesday at Sandman Centre, with puck-drop slated for 7 p.m.

The series is tied at 1-1.

Let’s take a look at a few series storylines.

Anyone’s to win

If both teams were healthy, the Royals would be favourites to advance to Round 2.

Victoria won the regular season series 5-3-1, a record that may have been better if it did not ice a skeleton squad against the Blazers on March 13. The Royals finished eight points ahead of Kamloops in the WHL standings, good for second in the B.C. Division. The Blazers were third.

Both teams are not healthy.

The Royals scratched these players in at least one game last weekend on Vancouver Island: F Kaid Oliver, F Tyus Gent, D Jake Kustra, D Mitchell Prowse, D Jameson Murray and D Matthew Smith.

Most notable on the list are Oliver, the Royals’ leading scorer who seems unlikely to play in the series, and the blueliners, especially Prowse, Kustra and Smith.

Making matters worse for Victoria are apparent injuries to D-Jay Jerome, who tied for third in team scoring, and standout blueliner Ralph Jarratt.

Jerome played sparingly on Saturday and Jarratt appeared to be ailing from multiple knocks.

Meanwhile, the Blazers were without Connor Zary, the 17-year-old forward who missed both weekend games with an undisclosed injury. That was a big blow, but the red-hot sniper is likely to return to the lineup on Tuesday.

Jeff Faith, who was hurt in Saturday’s game, practised on Monday and is likely to play Tuesday, meaning the Blazers may be back to full health.

The Royals have been forced to ice a pair of affilliated players on the blue line, Noah Lamb and Carson Golder, who combine for 11 games of WHL experience.

Their introduction to playoff hockey comes against a team aiming to put pucks behind defencemen and punish them.

The Blazers have been at their best in this series when utilizing brute force, led in that department by Faith, captain Jermaine Loewen and Ryley Appelt, who is playing the best hockey of his major-junior career.

Victoria could be up 2-0 in this series, even with a depleted roster, so nobody in Kamloops should be overconfident.

That said, the bruising Blazers seem to be wearing down the Royals and Kamloops threw one monkey off its back by ending a nine-game losing streak at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre with a 4-3 overtime victory on Saturday.

A note on home-ice advantage: If fans in this city show up like they did last Tuesday for the play-in triumph over Kelowna, it's advantage Blazers from a crowd standpoint.

Game 1 on Friday at the Victoria barn, which I expected to be rocking, felt closer to Game 38 vs. Swift Current on a Tuesday night.

That may have benefitted the home team, as the Blazers fell flat. They were either weary from a string of what were essentially elimination games or too used to feeding off the energy of must-win hockey.

An amped crowd may have provided energy to repurpose.

Game 2 was better, but still a far cry from last Tuesday on Mark Recchi Way.

This one is up for grabs.


Gamesmanship is part of what makes the playoffs intriguing.

Our first dose during this Round 1 series came with the Kobe Mohr suspension. The Blazers’ 19-year-old forward was banned for two games for “action at Victoria on March 22.”

Before we go any further, let’s deal with the ridiculousness of “action at Victoria.”

He hacked an official with his stick after a faceoff. Why can’t the league be a little more specific?

When I first read “action at Victoria,” before I realized the suspension was for swatting an official, my first thought was Mohr might have uttered some sort of offensive slur.

I’m not the only one who thought that.

Let’s get back to the gamesmanship.

Mohr told KTW the Royals asked the league to review the incident (multiple Blazers’ sources believe that to be the case) that led to his suspension, noting he felt a conversation with the official after the swipe, which he said contacted the official’s skate, had resolved the issue.

“It just sucks that Victoria would send that in and get me out of these games,” Mohr told KTW.

Royals’ bench boss Dan Price was crystal clear with media: “The league initiated that on their own.”

Someone has it wrong.

My take: Who cares who initiated it? Mohr’s lights upstairs switched off for a moment, during which a boneheaded play occurred. The suspension is warranted. He’ll be back for Game 4.

In the crease

The Blazers started 16-year-old goaltender Dylan Garand in Game 1.

He was lights out during the squad’s improbable drive to the post-season and team brass opted to sit 20-year-old Vegas Golden Knights’ signee Dylan Ferguson, who had recovered from injury and was available to start the playoff opener.

Garand, from Victoria, did not play poorly, but Kamloops fell 4-0.

KTW got wind of a meeting that occurred after the game in which coaches and staff shared opinions on who should start Game 2.

Suspicion festered when Blazers’ head coach Serge Lajoie, who was happy to reveal on Friday morning who would start Game 1, refused to tell KTW on Saturday afternoon who would take the crease that night.

Lajoie was not the only staff member to dodge the question.

Ferguson, from Lantzville, about 130 kilometres north of Victoria, started and was rock-solid, earning his first playoff victory after waiting four years for his post-season experience.

The net is again his to lose.

GM Matt Bardsley said the Blazers’ loss in Game 1 did not lead to the goaltending change, noting Ferguson was returning from injury and the extra night off gave him more recovery time.

But I doubt Ferguson would have started Game 2 if Kamloops had won 4-0 on Friday.

Cloak and dagger

During the regular season, teams are required to reveal basic information about injuries.

Doctors and trainers combine to issue status updates, even if they are vague, which are published each Monday in the WHL Weekly Report.

Terms of length, such as day-to-day and week-to-week, are revealed and injuries are classified as upper- or lower-body.

All that is thrown out the window during the post-season. Clubs are not required to say anything about injuries and they do their best to keep mum.

The Blazers, for example, kept this travelling reporter in the dark about Zary’s injury prior to Game 1, although a little snooping revealed he was ruled out for Game 2, but expected back on Tuesday.

Price was equally ambiguous on the injury front during a media scrum prior to Game 2.

You can’t blame them.

They want to make it as tough as possible for the opposition to prepare and would rather not reveal the specifics of an injury, knowing it may be targeted if they do.