QMJHL-champion Remparts spoil Memorial Cup opener, beat Blazers 8-3

Blazers blown out in opener

The Quebec Remparts spoiled the Memorial Cup opener for the host Kamloops Blazers on Friday by taking advantage of mistakes and odd man rushes, skating to a lopsided win in the first game of the tournament.

Remparts forward James Malatesta scored once in each period to propel the QMJHL champions to an 8-3 victory on Friday night at Sandman Centre.

“I didn’t even see the hat that was thrown on the ice,” Malatesta said about his hat trick celebration.

“[My teammates] made it easy for me tonight. I was just lucky to have two very nice backdoor passes, so all the credit goes to [Justin Robidas].”

The Blazers started strong, powered by an eager crowd through the first five minutes. The building got quiet when Malatesta opened the scoring on the Remparts’ first shot on goal at 7:36 of the opening frame.

Robidas fended off Blazer blueliner Aapo Sarrell the length of the ice and found the QMJHL playoff MVP Malatesta by the left post for the tap in.

“We are a good rush team and we took advantage of it,” Quebec head coach Patrick Roy said after the game. “We scored a few of our goals on some nice backdoor passes.”

Bankier tied the score for the Blazers late in the first period, but Malatesta put the Remparts back on top 65 seconds into the second — and they never looked back.

“I thought that when they scored we lost a little bit of our energy and got deflated, we tried to do a little too much,” Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston said after the game.

“We didn’t manage the puck very well which led to four turnovers, which led to way too many odd man rushes. They did a great job in transition and we knew they were a good transition team — we just got caught.”

The Blazers energy faded in the second. Following Malatesta’s second of the evening, the Remparts threw three more past Dylan Ernst to take a commanding lead.

Nathan Gaucher pumped his first of the tourney on a zone-entry drop pass from Pier-Olivier Roy. Remparts captain Theo Rochette converted a power play marker and Kassim Gaudet scored on a Blazers turnover to take a 5-1 lead into the second intermission.

“I think we have to clear it up. It’s a combination of puck management and we just got excited and had D jumping in, filling above, trying to make plays instead of funnelling up to the net where we had some traffic,” Clouston said.

“We will regroup, get rested. We will have a good day tomorrow and we will be better the next game.”

During the scoring frenzy, Shea Van Olm appeared to register his first of the postseason, when he swatted in a loose puck into the Remparts net. The referees immediately waved it off and were later proved right by video replay, as Connor Levis sent the puck to Van Olm via a hand pass.

Daylan Kuefler stepped into a loose puck late in the secondand Matthew Seminoff redirected an Olen Zellweger shot past William Rousseau to make it a two-goal game, but that was as close as the Blazers would get.

“I saw Zelly at the point and I know he likes to shoot. I got down to the net, tried to get out of his lane and my stick into the lane,” Seminoff said. “I felt like [my stick] was under the bar.”

Rousseau, the 19-year-old Quebec netminder, saved his best for the third period with the game in the balance. Leading 5-3, the Remparts took their second double minor of the evening when Malatesta clipped Kuefler with a high stick. The Trois-Rivières product stopped Seminoff on the doorstep. Seconds later, he got some help from the iron when Fraser Minten rang one of the post.

The biggest of his 27 saves created momentum for the Remparts, who stole the puck and burst out of the zone on an odd-man shorthanded rush. This time, Robidas fed it to Gaudet for his second of the evening.

Another odd-man rush, this time at even strength, saw St. Louis Blues prospect Zachary Bolduc tap the puck past Ernst with nine minutes remaining.

The Blazers netminder yielded eight goals — many on odd man rushes and clean looks — on 33 shots for Kamloops.

“You got to have a short-term memory,” Kamloops captain Logan Stankoven said after the game.

“It’s a tournament style, so obviously it was a tough one tonight, but we will go back to the drawing board tomorrow, watch some video, make some corrections and stay positive.”

The Blazers were wearing special jerseys featuring a poppy on a dream catcher, meant to honour First Nations veterans.

The Blazers will look to bounce back and win their first Memorial Cup game in 28 years when they host the OHL champion Peterborough Petes (0-0) on Sunday afternoon at Sandman Centre. Puck drop is 3 p.m.

Kelowna Rockets deal for 19-year-old centre

Rockets deal for centre

The Kelowna Rockets have added some depth up the middle in a deal with the Spokane Chiefs.

The Rockets acquired 19-year-old Michael Cicek from the Chiefs in exchange for a conditional fifth round pick in the 2026 prospects draft.

“We felt that we needed to add some size and depth at centre heading into next season,” said Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton.

“At six-foot-two, 175 pounds, we feel that Michael will fit that role well for us.”

In 41 games with the Chiefs last season, Cicek had four goals and eight assists.

He was originally selected in the sixth round of the 2019 prospects draft by the Chiefs.

Kalder Varga signs agreement to join the Kelowna Rockets

Varga signs with Rockets

It's official, Kalder Varga is the newest member of the Kelowna Rockets.

The 15-year-old forward, a native of Geneva, Ill. has signed a standard WHL scholarship and development agreement.

He was the seventh player selected in the U.S. priority draft earlier this year.

It's no surprise Varga chose to sign with the Rockets - his father John spent four years with the franchise when it was located in Tacoma from 1991 through 1995.

Since his dad played in the league, Varga was able to opt into the WHL draft even though his home state of Illinois is outside the league's draft area.

“It’s an absolute honour to sign with a first-class organization like the Kelowna Rockets," said Varga. "I can't wait to begin working hard both on and off of the ice to become a Rocket. I look forward to visiting Kelowna this summer and calling it home in the near future.

"I'd like to thank the Hamilton family and scouting staff for believing in me. I can't wait to contribute to the team's success."

Varga will take part in training camp later this summer but is not eligible to play with the team full-time until the 2024-2025 season.

He spent the 2022-23 season with the Chicago Mission Bantam 14U AAA team that were runners up at the Tier 1 national championships this past March. He'll will represent the Central District and Illinois at the United States National Camp in Rochester, New York this upcoming July.

Blazers banking on fresh legs, buzzing energy for Memorial Cup drive

Blazers ready for Cup push

If the sweltering heat causes a power outage in downtown Kamloops on Friday night, local businesses might consider plugging into Sandman Centre to harness some of the buzzing energy emitting from the rink as the Memorial Cup finally gets underway.

The Kamloops Blazers should be ready. The host squad will have had more than two weeks to recharge its batteries after dropping Game 6 of the WHL Western Conference championship to the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The Blazers will lift the tournament’s lid against the Quebec Remparts, who clinched the QMJHL title on Sunday.

“As a team, we took about a week off after that Seattle series,” Blazers captain Logan Stankoven, who is looking to win a Memorial Cup for his hometown team, told Castanet Kamloops.

“Some guys went home, others stayed in town. It was nice to get away and come back with a fresh mindset. We think that if we bring fresh energy to this tournament while other teams are still battling, that it will benefit us.”

Puck drop against the Remparts is on Friday is 6 p.m. The Blazers will enjoy at least one day off in between each round-robin game, as they tangle with the OHL champion Peterborough Petes at 3 p.m. on Sunday before closing out round-robin play with a rematch against the Thunderbirds at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31.

Olen Zellweger was the centrepiece in a WHL trade-deadline blockbuster in January, and the megadeal did not take long to pay dividends for the club on Mark Recchi Way. The blue-chip defenceman from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., led the Blazers with 11 goals in 14 playoff games.

Zellweger said he’s spent some of his time off going to school on the opposition.

“I’ve just tried to get a feel for the other teams. I’m not as familiar with secondary scorers from the other leagues as much as I am from guys in the WHL,” he said.

“I’ve just been looking for a few things that could give me an advantage — things like other players’ defensive habits, what they’re like and how much speed they play with. In a tourney this tight, it could pay off in a big way.”

As the CHL playoffs began to wind down, the Blazers’ coaching staff rolled out their plan to ramp up team activities in an attempt to be firing on all cylinders come puck drop against the Remparts.

“We took the break to come up with a plan to get ready for the Memorial Cup,” said Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston.

“When the guys came back on Monday morning [May 15], we had breakfast and went through a presentation with things we want to improve on before the tournament and our plan to allow us to get in the right spot physically, mentally and emotionally for when the tournament begins. If we can get there, play our game and play with a lot of energy, that will be the biggest difference maker.”

Clouston said he and his staff have been studying up on the competition coming from Peterborough and Quebec City, but they’ve also been looking in the mirror.

“We watched the other championship games to get an understanding of other teams’ power play, penalty kill and face off plays, but the vast majority of our preparation has been on us,” he said.

“When we play with a ton of energy, that’s when we’re at our best.”

The anticipation has been building for about a year since Kamloops was awarded the 2023 Memorial Cup.

Stankoven said he knows the electricity and excitement is only going to grow as the tournament progresses — especially if the Blazers are able to capitalize on their fresh legs.

“We know teams are going to be really fast and the rink is going to be really loud. We’re expecting great crowds,” he said.

“We will have to manage all the highs and lows of the tourney, but we are all looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be a great week of hockey.”

The Memorial Cup champion will be crowned on June 4.

Castanet Kamloops is giving away two VIP passes to the Memorial Cup semifinal, which will be played at Sandman Centre on June 2.

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