The smart guys called it. Fatigue finally took its toll on the Kamloops Blazers.
They got tired.
Of losing to Spokane.
Now, surely this transpired some time ago - January, probably, or a previous tax period - but until Wednesday night, the Blazers couldn’t quite figure out what to do about it.
Well, it was nothing a good case of desperation couldn’t cure and as it happened, the Chiefs momentarily misplaced theirs and lost 6-5.
You’re surprised? Who feels desperate up three games in a best-of-7, with 10,528 of your closest friends on hand to applaud you as a champion?
Nobody. Sure, you bring deodorant to a coronation, but not for the same reason.
Now, we had a pretty good clue the home team wasn’t quite on its game about 13 minutes into the action when Joel Boschman damn near snuck the puck past his own goaltender.
Not to pick on Joel. There was plenty of misplaced aggression to go around - evident in the way the Chiefs fell behind four different times.
There was some fairly well-placed aggression, too - most of it belonging to Jason Podollan, who put four shots past Kamloops’ Randy Petruk and had a couple near misses when the Chiefs regained their sense of urgency in the closing minutes.
“Team sport,” shrugged Spokane coach Mike Babcock. “Got to have more than one guy going.”
So now the team which has played too few players too many games in too many nights gets to play one more. Reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.
Where have you heard that before?
Well, here, of course - with each baby step the Chiefs took back from a 3-0 deficit against Portland. Same for the Blazers, down 2-1 against Tri-City. Hockey may not be a sport best played at multiple match point, but it seems to work for these guys.
“It helped us out last series,” said Kamloops winger Jarome Iginla, the WHL’s player of the year and even with Podollan’s heroics the player of this night. “We were down to elimination two games in a row. And if you’re down to your last game of the year, you want to make it your best game of the year.”
Imperfect as this one was, it qualified.
It kept a season alive and slew a simian.
The Blazers, of course, had not beaten Spokane all season - hadn’t beaten the Chiefs at all going back January 1995. Theatre of the absurd, this was, because the Blazers beat everybody. This is only their 13th straight West Division final.
Bad enough to get swept during the regular season, but the Blazers had blown a pair to open the series in Kamloops and it was all getting a bit much.
“It seemed the gorilla on our backs was growing fatter and fatter,” said Iginla.
Podollan remained skeptical.
“They had trouble with us all year, but nothing came easy for us,” he said. “People were saying domination this and domination that, but domination is when you roll on teams 10-1 or 10-2.
“We were pulling out 4-3 games and 5-4. We outworked them a few times and they outworked us a few times but we got some breaks.”
Indeed, maybe the burden of that bygone oh-fer has been the most overrated aspect of the series.
“We really didn’t talk about it,” said Kamloops coach Ed Dempsey. “A lot of people ask us about that, but you win or lose for a reason and we lost those games because we didn’t do something right.”
And so there’s, what, relief?
“Not relief,” he insisted. “We don’t have time to be relieved. Our season is on the line every night.”
The Chiefs’ too, believe it or not.
“Who cares if you’re up 3-0?” said Babcock. “You still have to win the next one. The game that you’re playing is always the important one.
“People always talk about a series - where it is, where it’s being played - but all that stuff to me is hogwash. Don’t count Kamloops out. They have a ton of tradition and a tremendous upside.”
And each game is their last. For teams like these, that’s the biggest upside of all.
, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.
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