Ernst, Blazers stave off T-Birds, get back in Western Conference championship

Blazers get back in series

Olen Zellweger scored once and added two assists Tuesday at Sandman Centre as the Kamloops Blazers earned a hard-fought 4-1 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds to get back into the WHL Western Conference championship — a series they can now tie with a win on Thursday night.

“We just have got to do whatever we can to win these games here,” Zellweger told Castanet Kamloops after the game.

“You’re only in this situation so many times in your life. We’re competing to get to the final, and everyone wants to win so badly. I think that just speaks to our commitment level and how badly we want to win.”

Zellweger, Jakub Demek, Ryan Hofer and Matthew Seminoff were the goal scorers for the Blazers. Nolan Allan scored the lone goal for the Thunderbirds.

Zellweger opened the scoring with a power-play marker at 8:29 of the first period and Allan answered back 90 seconds later to even the score. Demek scored late in the first to put the Blazers back on top. That was all the scoring until Hofer and Seminoff found the back of the net late in the third.

Dylan Ernst was sensational in net for the Blazers, stopping 22 of 23 Seattle shots. Thomas Milic played well for the T-Birds, making 35 saves on 38 Kamloops shots.

Ernst made a second-period stop that fooled the Thunderbirds and many fans in attendance on Mark Recchi Way. The puck took a strange bounce off the end boards and hit him in the back, and Seattle’s skaters celebrated as if it went in.

“It hit off the crossbar and I felt it hit my back. I got lucky when I swung my hand around and caught it,” Ernst said.

“Honestly I wasn’t too sure if I was over the goal line or not. I was hoping, but obviously it wasn’t — so it was good.”

Zellweger said the circus save only solidified the club’s faith in Ernst.

“He’s just got that confidence and that swagger to him,” he said.

“He believes in himself, we believe in him. That confidence within the group just allows him to play his game.”

Kamloops head coach Shaun Clouston said he was proud of his club’s effort.

“It’s a 60-minute game. They’re a really, really good team,” he said.

“It’s great to get out in front. They tied it up, we showed a lot of resilience. It was a hard-fought game — a really, really hard-fought game. It was as intense and physical of hockey as you’ll see at this level, that’s for sure.”

The Blazers scored once on three power-play opportunities. Seattle was scoreless on three chances.

Announced attendance at Sandman Centre was 5,238.

The Thunderbirds now lead the series 2-1. They won both games last weekend in Kent, Wash. Game 4 will go Thursday back at Sandman Centre with a 7 p.m. puck drop.

Clouston said he plans to take advantage of the off day Wednesday.

“We’ll meet tomorrow at 1 p.m., we’ll have a conversation, we’ll get a read for energy,” he said. “Probably a short skate for guys that can go and get some rest and get ready for the next day.”

Elsewhere in the WHL, the Winnipeg Ice jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead Tuesday en route to a 5-1 win over the Blades in Saskatoon. The Ice now have a 3-0 stranglehold on the Eastern Conference championship series.

The Blazers are hosting the Memorial Cup, which will get underway on May 26 at Sandman Centre.

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