Kamloops Blazers season over after Game 6 loss to Victoria

Any hope of the Kamloops Blazers continuing their miraculous late-season run was shattered — along with two panes of glass — as the Victoria Royals closed out their first-round series with a 4-1 victory Monday (April 1).

Three second-period goals lifted the Royals on to the next round, where they'll face the B.C. Division champion Vancouver Giants, while ending the Blazers career of three overage players: Dylan Ferguson, Jeff Faith and Jermaine Loewen.

As Kamloops trailed 4-0 in the third period and any comeback attempt was all but dead, most of the 5,876 people in the soldout Sandman Centre remained, cheering in full throat, saying goodbye to their team after a crazy final month of hockey.

"They came out strong the fans," says Loewen, the Blazers' captain. "We didn't have our best showing tonight, but I was just very thankful of them supporting us through everything. I was just thinking about, this is the last time I'm going to be wearing a Blazers jersey and skating on the ice. How many games I've been here, the ups and downs, the good times and the bad times and... it's all just a flooding of emotion. That whole third period I was very emotional. It was hard to hold it together. I felt like it wasn't going to happen, the comeback this time around and just to go out there was really hard."

The Blazers made up seven points in the standings in a week and a half, catching the Kelowna Rockets on the final weekend of the season and forcing a tiebreaker game. After winning that, they twice came back to tie this opening round series at one and two games apiece.

This time, they couldn't rally for another comeback. Not with Griffen Outhouse in net.

Though the Blazers outshot the Royals 35-23 tonight and 209-176 this series, Outhouse more than made up for the disparity, turning away high-quality chances time and time again. Early in the third period, the Blazers' hottest scorer Connor Zary, intercepted a puck inside the Royals' blue line and had a chance to get Kamloops back in it, but the Likely, B.C. native slammed the door in his face. 

At the other end, it was 16-year-old Dylan Garand who got the call after Ferguson allowed four goals on 14 shots in Game 5. But Garand never really settled into a rhythm, going untested before the first glass break five minutes into the game — which resulted in about a 20-minute delay — and only facing three shots in the first period total.

On one of them, Brandon Cutler beat him for the game's first goal after Kamloops failed to clear the zone.

"Turnovers hurt us in both Games 5 and 6 and it proved to be costly again on the first goal," says head coach Serge Lajoie. "Our execution wasn't as sharp as it needed to be. Was that because of the glass? I don't think so. Maybe you just saw a team that was a little mentally tired."

Cutler had the Blazers' number again in the second, redirecting a Jake Kustra point shot on the power play to put Victoria up a pair. 

Following the game's second delay for broken glass, Zane Franklin took a cross-checking penalty and the Royals' special teams went to work once again. 

Ralph Jarratt potted a wrister from the top of the right circle giving the Royals a 3-0 lead. Victoria went two for seven on the power play, while Kamloops couldn't convert on their two chances.

For a moment, it looked like the Blazers averted a complete disaster after Garand stopped a Tarun Fizer penalty shot with just under two minutes left in the period to keep things at 3-0.

But Carson Miller would pot one with 11 ticks left in the frame and start the countdown to next season.

Ferguson went in net for the third period and stopped all 10 shots he faced. Garand finished the night with nine saves on 13 shots.

"I'm so proud of this group," says Ferguson. "The way these guys battled while I was out, I've never been so proud in my life. We had such a great group of guys this year. We all really bonded at the end and it's going to be tough to say goodbye."

Orrin Centazzo broke Victoria's shutout bid with just under six minutes remaining in the game, taking a feed from Mohr in the slot and beating Outhouse over the right shoulder.

While that goal didn't mark the start of a rally, this playoff series may mark the start of something great for the future. 

"Every game was an opportunity to gain more experience so our younger guys like (Kyrell) Sopotyk, (Josh) Pillar, Zary, (Quinn) Schmiemann, those guys really gained a lot of experience," says Lajoie. "This was invaluable for us in our growth as an organization."

The Royals will begin their series against Vancouver in Langley on Friday night (April 5). As for Kamloops, it will be locker cleanout time on Wednesday. But while some players won't be back next season, none of them will forget the lessons from this run. 

"I think there's big things ahead for the Blazers," says Loewen. "As long as everybody wants to put in the work and believes. There is potential for us to go (places). I would really love to see that happen and I'm going to be following along. I'm always going to remember this time in my life. It taught me a lot as a young man: it taught me about adversity and fighting through things. It also taught me about success as well. It sometimes seemed like things weren't going to go for us in the last month of the season, but we found a way to bring things together."

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