WHL comes down on Blazers, Rockets for Saturday night donnybrook in Kelowna

Blazers, Rockets have different takes on why things got out of control

The Western Hockey League has disciplined the Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets, punishment handed down on Monday for involvement in a Saturday night donnybrook at Prospera Place.

Eighteen fighting majors and 11 misconduct penalties were assessed between 15:18 of the third period and the end of the game, which the visitors won 7-2.

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Four of those scraps took place at 17:46 of the third period, a battle royal that was essentially a line brawl.

Kelowna was slapped with a $3,000 fine for “actions versus Kamloops on January 11,” according to the WHL website.

The Blazers were dinged $1,500 for their role in Little Apple Fight Night.

Both teams were guilty of participating in a multi-fight situation and each had a combatant in the goalie fight, which featured Dylan Garand of the Blazers and Roman Basran of the Rockets. The league likely pilfered both teams’ pocketbooks for involvement in those incidents.

Kamloops head coach Shaun Clouston and Kelowna bench boss Adam Foote were at the helm and their roles in allowing nefarious activity to escalate would have been considered in the fine amounts.

The Rockets were fined more severely and that may have to do with who Foote deployed on the line-brawl shift, perhaps most notably that four defencemen took to the ice when Kelowna, down four goals with fewer than three minutes to play, had access to forwards.

Foote, with last change, rolled out 6-foot-2, 192-pound Kaedan Korczak, 18; 6-foot-2, 216-pound Jake Lee, 18; 6-foot-3, 179-pound Tyson Feist, 19; and 20-year-old Conner McDonald, who stands six feet tall and weighs 192 pounds.

Dillon Hamaliuk, 19, was Kelowna’s lone forward, a 6-foot-3, 201-pound left shot.

On the ice for Kamloops were three forwards and two defencemen: 6-foot, 170-pound Caedan Bankier, 16; 6-foot-2, 187-pound Reese Belton, 17; 6-foot-1, 172-pound Daylan Kuefler, 17; 6-foot-2, 174-pound Ethan Brandwood, 17; and 5-foot-10, 170-pound import Inaki Baragano, 18.

The WHL’s director of player safety, Kevin Acheson, handles discipline.

Bardsley, who spoke to Acheson before punishment was levied, said the league was aware of Kelowna’s blue-liner heavy group on the ice for the fracas.

“I didn’t have to talk too much on that part,” Bardsley told KTW on Tuesday.

Why did Kelowna deploy four D-men?

“I don’t have any thoughts on that,” Bardsley said. “It’s something that they can answer. Yeah, no. We had young guys out there. It was tough. Caedan Bankier, zero penalty minutes. Ethan Brandwood, I think, had zero penalty minutes. Reese Belton had four penalty minutes.

“It’s rare we see that any more. Hopefully, we don’t see that any more.”

Rockets’ owner and general manager Bruce Hamilton told KTW on Wednesday the brouhaha was sparked by a hit in the second period, when Kamloops forward Ryley Appelt was issued a two-minute minor for boarding after a check on Kelowna forward Liam Kindree.

“If you talk to Matt [Bardsley] or you talk to me, you’ll get two different versions,” said Hamilton, who is in Toronto for Canadian Hockey League meetings. “I just think there was a hit on Kindree that I think the league missed. He’s hurt and going to be out. That’s significant to us.

“And I just think we got to the point where there’s been so much lip service on the ice among the players. It’s time to grow up, both sides, and just play.”

Here’s Foote, speaking to the Kelowna Daily Courier: “They’re laughing at us. Their coach is standing on the bench playing their top power play at 6-2. If he wants to do it, then he wants to do it, but I think our guys just saw them laughing and they felt like they had to do something.

“If the ref had maybe called the right call on the boarding call on (Appelt), it probably could’ve controlled the whole thing.”

Clouston told KTW there was no intention to run up the score.

"Absolutely not,” he said. “We had 16- and 17-year-olds and an extra D-man filling in the power play late in the game. There was zero intention to run up the score."

Hamilton was asked if he and Acheson spoke about the deployment of four defenders on the rumble shift.

“It was brought up,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t think that all those guys were going to fight. The whole game got going at the hit. Kindree got hurt and then there was lots of chatting going back and forth and that just kind of brought it on.”

Korczak received the only suspension, a three-game ban for “actions versus Kamloops,” according to the league.

He was ordered to leave the ice surface during the 17:46 melee, but returned for the quarrel. He also took a cross-checking minor on that shift, stick work that preceded the slugfest.

Hamilton, chairman of the WHL board of governors, said the suspension was fair.

He did not mince words when asked about his team’s discipline, the Rockets averaging 15 penalty minutes per game to lead the league in the category.

“It’s a big issue and it’s been made very clear to our coaching staff that it’s time to get started on this,” Hamilton said. “We’ve waited way too long to get a hold of this. That’s on myself and right on down the line. That has to get dealt with.”

The Blazers have not been saints, fourth in the league in penalty minutes and leading the WHL in fighting majors, with 31. The Rockets are second in the tilts category, with 21.

Kamloops (27-11-2-1), which failed in its bid to host the 2020 Memorial Cup, is atop the B.C. Division, six points ahead of the Victoria Royals (24-13-3-0) and 12 points clear of the Rockets (21-17-1-2).

Kelowna, the 2020 Memorial Cup host, has been injury-riddled, missing regulars such as Nolan Foote, Sean Comrie and Trevor Wong. Basran was hurt in the scrap with Garand, an injury that came one day after the WHL trade deadline.

“We just need to have our full team, so we know what we’ve got,” said Hamilton, whose club has lost seven of eight games against the Blazers this season. “We made eight or nine moves. Every time we start looking like we’re getting close to being back to normal, something happens.

“And it’s not an excuse at all. We’ve got what we’ve got. Look at the Lethbridge team. They played … without three guys who were at the world juniors and never missed a beat. There shouldn’t be any excuse. We’ve just got to get playing."

Hamilton circled back to discipline before returning to meetings.

“If you don’t play with discipline in this league, you’re not going to have success because the other teams all have very good special teams,” he said.

© Kamloops This Week


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