One year later, the Victoria Royals exacted revenge on the Kamloops Blazers with a 4-1 victory, spoiling the annual Teddy Bear Toss game Friday night at the Sandman Centre.
Last year, the then-rebuilding Royals were on the wrong side of a 6-1 drubbing when the stuffies hit the ice on Mark Recchi Way.
“It was a good crowd tonight, there was excitement in the building and it was for a good cause which is always important — but, as a coach, we’re also concerned about the result,” Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston said after the game.
The crowd of 4,441 waited on the edge of their seats for nearly half the game to chuck their teddies on the ice, four days shy of the 30th anniversary of the initial Teddy Bear Toss game, which originated in Kamloops.
Bears were thrown on Friday, but the Blazers lost and are now 7-15-3-2 on the season — last in the WHL’s Western Conference. The win moves the Royals to 15-11-0-2, good for second in the B.C. Division.
Nathan Behm was buzzing in the first frame with three shots, trying to make the fur fly. The Blazers were awarded a power play in the second when Escalus Burlock picked up an offensive tripping penalty. Halfway through the Blazers’ first man advantage, a rebound from a Logan Barios’ point shot was whacked in by Behm, and the stuffed animals cascaded onto the ice.
“It’s pretty cool to dream about it as a kid and then to come out and score that goal as a player,” said Behm, who was a 15-year-old call up and on the bench when Fraser Minten scored the teddy bear goal last year.
“It’s a great cause and a great tradition. I’m glad I could help out.”
The former 13th overall selection from the 2022 WHL Bantam Draft is beginning to heat up after a slow start. He now has four goals in his last five games after starting this season with three in 22.
“This is a good stretch for him,” Clouston said.
“He’s a good player and he’s starting to understand where he needs to be and the effort it takes to get to good spots and compete. When you do those things, it usually gets better for the player.”
The game was delayed just over eight minutes while volunteers of all ages took to the ice, cleaning up the overwhelming accumulation of stuffed animals. Members of the Blazers organization will tally the teddies and disperse them across town to local non-profit organizations starting next week.
Until Behm found the back of the net, the pressure had been slowly building on the Blazers.
Kamloops product Reggie Newman opened the scoring on a backhand pass from Tanner Scott. Already down the middle of the ice, Newman chipped it over Dylan Ernst’s shoulder for his eighth of the year — but the first WHL marker he’s scored in his hometown.
Newman was in the middle of things later on when emotions began to boil over. Friday’s game was the third of four straight between the Blazers and Royals, having split a pair earlier this week in Victoria.
Looking for a spark, draft eligible prospect Harrison Brunicke lowered the boom on Royals’ centre Logan Pickford midway through the third, slamming him into the boards by the Blazers bench. A few roughing minors were earned by each side with the Royals taking the edge as Brunicke sat for interference.
“This is like a mini playoff series — it’s fun,” Behm said. “You get to build rivalries within the game, learn other teams tendencies and make adjustments. A couple rough plays at the end brought the crowd back into it, too.”
Following a successful penalty kill with seven minutes remaining in the third, Vojtech Vochvest and Newman dropped the mitts in the Blazers end. Following the skirmish, Vochvest did his best to get the crowd going after both players dusted themselves off. For Newman, it was his seventh career fight and second against the Blazers. He finished an assist shy of completing a Gordie Howe hat trick.
“Emotions are a big part of the game when you’re battling the same guys back-to-back-to-back. It can get a little personal out there,” said Clouston.
By that point, the Royals were comfortably ahead following a pair of goals in a blink of an eye to start the third frame.
Stealing the puck in the neutral zone and regrouping in their own zone, Ryan Spizawka spotted Scott cutting through the middle of the ice. The Sherwood Park, Alta., product entered the zone untouched and ripped his 10th past Ernst, who made 21 saves.
Sixteen seconds later, a fumbled puck in the neutral zone allowed import draft pick Robin Sapousek to fly into the zone and beat Ernst up high for his 13th of the year.
“We got caught on a change on one of them and turned the puck over on the next one. There were good stages tonight, but a few stages where we have to manage the puck a lot better,” said Clouston. “It was disheartening. Until then, I thought we played a good game. After that, our goalie dug in and made some saves and we pressured on the other end but they did a good job boxing us out.”
Scott added his second of the game into an empty net as fans were filing out of their seats. The Blazers didn’t register double digit shots in any frame, as Jayden Kraus stopped 22 of 23 shots to earn his sixth win.
This four-game set will conclude Sunday at 2 p.m. at Sandman Centre — the Blazers’ final home game before the Christmas break. The club has a five-game road trip through Saskatchewan starting next Friday. Their next home game will be on Dec. 27, when the Kelowna Rockets pay a visit.
Prior to puck drop, a moment of silence was held to honour Owyn McInnis, a member of the Thompson Rivers University men’s volleyball program who was killed in a car crash on Wednesday, and everyone impacted by the tragedy that occurred earlier this week on McGill Road just off TRU’s campus.