There is never a good way to end a hockey season unless it includes hoisting a championship trophy after your final game.
However, some losses sting way more than others.
Not making the playoffs at the 2023 Memorial Cup isn’t what the Kamloops Blazers had envisioned when they were named as the host team for this tournament one year ago.
The Blazers did have a bright side to their 22-23 season as they easily won the B.C. Division in the WHL with an impressive 43-13-4-3 record.
They also started the playoffs 8-0 but after that when the going got tough the Blazers did not come close to achieving their ultimate goal.
When the Blazers gave up a good part of their future (including four first-round draft picks) on January 8th in a blockbuster trade to acquire WHL Defenceman of the Year Olen Zellweger and top-notch 20-year-old forward Ryan Hofer from the Everett Silvertips, it was not with the intent of losing seven of their last 10 games of the season.
Once the tumble started not even home ice advantage could help them recover.
Kamloops was competitive in the WHL Western Conference Championship Series, where they ultimately lost to a better team in the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games.
There was no shame in that considering how the Thunderbirds have arguably one of the best WHL rosters ever put together.
The Blazers would also be given another chance that would be exclusively in front of their own fans.
After more than a two-week break, Kamloops started the Memorial Cup with an 8-3 loss to the Québec Remparts but two days later crushed the Peterborough Petes 10-2.
The Blazers lost to Seattle again, this time 6-1 to close out the round-robin, before having their season end Thursday night in devastating fashion.
On home ice, in a tiebreaker, against a team they earlier beat by a whopping eight goals, Kamloops squandered a 4-1 second-period lead and ultimately had their season end with a 5-4 overtime loss to Peterborough.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) June 2, 2023
The Blazers allowed 21 goals over the four games while scoring 18 (more than half of them in one game).
It isn’t fair to blame any one person for the Kamloops meltdown because as a team the Blazers struggled against the top-notch Québec, Seattle, and Peterborough forwards.
In the high-profile goalie position, Dylan Ernst was the fourth-best among starters in the four-team tournament with a 5.06 goals-against-average and 0.844 save percentage.
Ernst, who will suit up as a 19-year-old next season, will be among the returning Blazers but Kamloops is expected to lose many of its top players.
I am not sure how long it will be before Kamloops has another team as talented as this one but it could very well be several years.
The Blazers were not the only major junior team to go “all-in” and then fall short and they will not be the last.
I can not imagine the Blazers and their fans will have much fun watching the Seattle-Peterborough semifinal if indeed they do watch.
And they would have even less fun on Sunday seeing Québec in the final against the Thunderbirds or Petes.
Gut-wrenching season-ending losses are the worst, especially when you have a sizeable lead in your final game in your building.
WATCH 📽️ | @blazerhockey head coach / GM Shaun Clouston and captain Logan Stankoven speak following their Club’s tie-breaker setback to the Peterborough Petes Thursday.#MemorialCup pic.twitter.com/llM70kHxJ8
— The WHL (@TheWHL) June 2, 2023
I have thought ever since the rosters were finalized on January 10th, Seattle had the best CHL team in the country.
Nothing happened in the WHL playoffs (they went 16-3) or so far at the Memorial Cup (they are 2-1) to change my mind, although the Remparts are in the driver’s seat, having to win just one game while both the Thunderbirds and Peterborough have to win two.
(Seattle lost to Québec 3-1 on Monday, (the last goal into the empty net) in a game where the Thunderbirds outshot the Remparts 36-22).
I still believe Seattle will beat the Petes and the Remparts in the final two Memorial Cup games.
This will be the first time all season the Thunderbirds will play in an elimination game.
I expect, with their talented roster, (which includes Nico Myatovic of Prince George) they will come out blazing.
Memorial Cup schedule/results:
Round-Robin – Game 1 – Friday, May 26 – Québec 8 Kamloops 3
Round-Robin – Game 2 – Saturday, May 27 – Seattle 6 Peterborough 3
Round-Robin – Game 3 – Sunday, May 28 – Kamloops 10 Peterborough 2
Round-Robin – Game 4 – Monday, May 29 – Québec 3 Seattle 1
Round-Robin – Game 5 – Tuesday, May 30 – Peterborough 4 Québec 2
Round-Robin – Game 6 – Wednesday, May 31 – Seattle 6 Kamloops 1
Tie-Breaker – Thursday, June 1 – (OT) Peterborough 5 Kamloops 4
Semi-Final – Friday, June 2 – Seattle vs. Peterborough (7 p.m. PT)
Final – Sunday, June 4 – Québec vs. ? (4 p.m. PT)
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
So this year the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando is going to become the Pop-Tarts Bowl. Should be fun for announcers. “That was a sweet pass” “they’re in a real jam here….” “think this team is toast..”
Martha Stewart appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. And at 81 years old, it explains why the fans of the back-to-back champion Penticton Vees of the BCHL were recently heard chanting “Three-Piece” “Three-Piece.”
*Contributor Marc Ragovin of New York
After squandering a 3-0 series lead, flirting with the wrong side of history, the Miami Heat finally pulled it together and punched their ticket into the NBA finals with a Game 7 rout of the Boston Celtics. In the way Miami won the series, they also qualified for the World Bungee Jumping Championships.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
Day after day since their elimination, the talk has felt endless about the Leafs needing to break up their “core four.” In short, Toronto management needs to keep doing what they seem so good at — being rotten to the core.
Hartley Miller is the news and sports supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. After growing up in Winnipeg, he has lived in Prince George for the last 44 years and completed his 10th season as the radio colour commentator on the Prince George Cougars home games. Hartley is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).