Montana Onyebuchi is disheartened by his teammates’ response to a hit that forced Kamloops Blazers’ team captain Connor Zary out of a WHL contest against the Prince George Cougars on Wednesday at Sandman Centre.
“Honestly, I think it was kind of a cheap hit. That’s all I can really say about it. I’m kind of disappointed in the boys,” said Onyebuchi, the Blazers’ alternate captain who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 220 pounds. “Somebody has got to answer the bell there.”
Prince George topped Kamloops 5-1, with goals coming from Tyson Upper, Ethan Samson, Keaton Dowhaniuk, Connor Bowie and Koehn Ziemmer.
Taylor Gauthier stopped 37 shots to pick up the victory between the pipes.
Josh Pillar scored for Kamloops in support of goaltender Dylan Ernst, who made 29 saves in a losing effort.
The story of the game is Jonny Hooker’s hit on Zary, the Calgary Flames’ prospect who got to his feet and wobbled closer to the Blazers’ bench before going down again while clutching his head.
Zary had dispatched the puck and was in a vulnerable position when Hooker’s left shoulder appeared to rise up to connect with the Kamloops captain.
Hooker, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-1, 188-pound forward from Winnipeg, was assessed a two-minute minor for charging.
“I thought it was a head shot,” Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston said. “I think they called it a charge. If you charge but the main point of contact is the head, it should be checking to the head and it should have been a major.
“It’s hockey. Things happen. There are rules in place. Unfortunately, none of the four [officials] really saw that or saw it that way. Hopefully, it’s shorter versus longer term as far as him out of the lineup.”
Blazers’ trainer Colin (Toledo) Robinson and Pillar helped Zary to his feet. The 19-year-old Saskatoon product left the bench area and headed toward the dressing room without need for support from teammates.
There were no fighting majors issued after the second-period hit that ended Zary’s night.
“Obviously, we’re not going to take it lightly when one of the best players on our team, a first-round NHL Draft pick, gets hit like that,” said Pillar, who was often seen jawing at the Cougars during play and between whistles. “We definitely tried to retaliate, both challenging guys and on the ice. They just played good hockey and stuck to playing hockey, so there wasn’t really much else we could do. We battled, though.”
Clouston was asked about his club’s response to the hit.
“We had lots of guys that stood up and tried, but you can’t force that in today’s game where there is suspensions if it’s a one-man fight or whatever,” Clouston said. “You can only give it a try and we had a number of guys try.”
It seems Onyebuchi feels his teammates did not try hard enough.
“If it was a different weight class, I would have for sure been able to do it,” Onyebuchi said. “Obviously, he’s not going to go me, but I think some of our guys should have stepped up and I’m pretty disappointed.”
B.C. Division standings: Kamloops (12-3), Vancouver (9-6), Prince George (6-7-1-1), Kelowna (6-2) and Victoria (1-13-1-0).
The Blazers, whose winning streak ended at five games, will play the Rockets in Kelowna on Friday, a 7:05 p.m. start at Prospera Place.
Prince George and Kamloops are scheduled to play once more, on May 12, the last day of the truncated 2021 B.C. Division campaign, a 7 p.m. start at Sandman Centre.