With less than two minutes left, the Kamloops Blazers pulled their goalie on a power play, giving themselves a two-man advantage.
But it was not enough.
The Vancouver Giants took the win, less than a minute before, with a tipped goal from the blue-line by Brendan Gallagher, setting the score 3-2.
It was a big game for the two WHL teams – their eighth and final meeting this season – but it was an even bigger game for Whitehorse as it celebrated the “grand finale” of their national spotlight on Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada.
While the jerseys in the stands ranged from historic to local, to every Canadian team in the NHL, there was an obvious “home team” support for Kamloops.
“We got here two hours before the game and the seats were already filled,” said Kamloops goalie, Jeff Bosch. “We tried to use the energy the crowd provided in a positive way and not get nervous and I felt we did that for the most part. You could tell early on that it was going to be a tight game and it just kinda happened that they got the last balance … and we didn’t have much time to tie it up.”
But the loud fans were not distracting, said Kamloops forward, Brendan Ranford.
The 18-year-old is leading the team in points and comes from a family of hockey players – Uncle Bill won two Stanley cups during his turn as NHL goalie. He played for several teams, including Edmonton.
But for Brendan, the shorter glass lined with fans’ faces reminded him of his youth.
“It was a lot of fun, there’s a good atmosphere in here,” he said. “This brings back memories from provincials and midget back in the day, and there was probably this many people at those games too. Sometimes you couldn’t hear a pass, but it was a good experience, for sure.”
It was a good experience for the fans as well, with players on both sides putting on a good show.
Only five minutes off the start, sticks, gloves and helmets were thrown down as Vancouver’s Darren Bestland and Kamloops’ Jordan DePape circled each other, fists raised.
Before the first period was over, another throwdown happened when Kamloops forward Ryan Hanes called on Giants’ defenceman Wes Vannieuwenhuizen. Hanes threw his helmet and gloves onto the ice, while Vannieuwenhuizen dropped only his gloves before pummeling Hanes’ moustached and mulleted head.
Numerous other scuffles followed, largely in the form of pileups before and behind each net after goals were scored.
The crowd roared at every brawl.
“I think the fans got to see a real good hockey game,” said Giants coach, Don Hay. “Couple fights, some goals, some penalty kills and a lot of effort from both teams. I thought it was a real solid game.”
The Giants are hoping to finish first in their division before entering into the conference, Hay said, noting Kelowna’s their biggest threat.
While players from across the WHL feel the pressure with NHL scouts watching every move, the Giants have even more stress with hockey greats Gordie Howe and Pat Quinn owning a chunk of the team.
“When he is around he’s definitely not shy to share stories and tips,” said Giants lead scorer Brendan Gallagher of Quinn, who attended Saturday’s game.
“Obviously, a guy like that you try to hang around as much as possible. He’s a very knowledgeable hockey man. It’s very nice to have him around.”
While the 2007 Canada Winter Games gave Hockey Day a run for its money, Saturday’s WHL game proved to be Whitehorse’s biggest hockey crowd yet, with the arena overselling seats.
After the Hockey Day cup was given to Vancouver’s Neil Manning, the crowd drowned out the arena’s music system as all players, sticks raised, skated round before leaving the rink for their unusually small dressing rooms.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org