Vancouver Island is under perpetual earthquake watch, with tectonic plates grinding and fixing to snap under stress that could trigger a devastating tsunami.
Nobody was expecting the big one to occur in B.C.’s Interior, but a fever-pitch atmosphere inside Sandman Centre and waves of Blazers’ physicality during a WHL playoff barnburner helped lead to a seismic event — and Kody McDonald was at fault.
The Victoria Royals’ standout 20-year-old forward from Lethbridge, seemingly still fuming from incurring an embellishment penalty at 5:34 of the third period, turned his stick into a weapon two minutes later in Game 4 of the first-round post-season series, pushed over the edge by verbal taunting from Kamloops forward Zane Franklin.
McDonald was on the bench, on the other side of dividing glass from Franklin, and swung his stick several times at the Blazers’ forward’s head, connecting once and following through to whack Kamloops trainer Colin (Toledo) Robinson, whose glasses were damaged on contact.
An incensed McDonald was escorted off the ice by officials while the arena whipped into a frenzy as fans, players, coaches, referees and media alike processed what was happening.
Kamloops brass is also looking into an alleged fracas that took place while the Victoria forward was making his way to the dressing room, with security guards allegedly involved. Security would have to report the incident to the WHL to spark a league investigation, according to a Blazers’ source.
McDonald was issued a match penalty for intent to injure, which was accompanied by an automatic one-game suspension and five minutes in the sin bin that were served by Ty Yoder.
The loss of composure proved costly.
Connor Zary scored the game-winning goal during 4-on-4 action that followed, while Franklin was serving an unsportsmanlike-conduct minor for his lip service, and Luke Zazula tallied on the power play after Franklin returned to the ice.
Martin Lang iced the game with a power-play goal at 15:11 to give the Blazers a 6-3 victory that leaves the series tied at 2-2 heading into Game 5 in Victoria on Saturday.
“It was pretty pivotal,” Royals’ head coach Dan Price said of McDonald’s penalty. “There was definitely some things said from their bench which I can’t repeat, very personal things. Disappointing to hear that from players in our league, but that’s why it escalated.”
Franklin has a different take on his jibing.
“Just friendly hockey chatter,” said the 20-year-old forward from Marwayne, Alta, noting the only time he’s seen an incident like that is in movies. “It was a little run-of-the-mill. I don’t know what really started it, but I kind of put my two cents in there and I pinched a nerve I guess. It works out good, I guess, for us.
“He did most of his talking with his stick. He didn’t like it, whatever I said. We’ll keep [what I said] between the two benches. Maybe I’ll use it again, so I don’t want you guys to know.”
Match penalties are automatically reviewed by the league, which on Thursday suspended McDonald indefinitely. He is done for the series.
The 5,193 in attendance were treated to one of the more memorable contests in recent Blazers’ history, a game that featured goalie gaffes, violent bodychecks, lead changes, and, perhaps most notably (outside of the McDonald incident), a disdain for officiating that felt riotous.
That crew might have needed an armoured car to escape Mark Recchi Way had the home team not prevailed.
“It was pretty emotional,” Price said. “There was a lot of talking, a lot of physicality, a lot of stuff after the play and a lot of stuff after the whistle. That’s kind of what it’s like in the playoffs.”
Kyrell Sopotyk put Kamloops ahead 1-0 at 6:52 of the first period, the 17-year-old forward’s third goal of the post-season.
Kamloops was on the power play a few minutes later when a failed zone exit left the puck about 15 feet in front of netminder Dylan Ferguson, who opted to bolt for it to clear danger.
The 20-year-old backstop from Lantzville tripped, leaving Royals’ forward Dino Kambeitz with a shorthanded tap-in to tie the game at 1-1.
Kambeitz notched his second goal of the game and fourth of the post-season on the power play at 13:48 to put his club ahead 2-1.
“We had momentum going, but we fell into that trap,” Price said. “We started reacting to what Kamloops was doing and we let our emotions get the best of us. That really turned it.”
Zary’s first goal of the game came on the power-play at 19:39, a marker that resulted from Blazers’ captain Jermaine Loewen doing what he did all night — making a nuisance of himself in front of Victoria netminder Griffen Outhouse.
“That’s one thing we wanted to establish in this series, was to be hard on them and get in front of Outhouse and get in his kitchen,” Loewen said. “He’s a good goalie. I didn’t take a penalty tonight. I Just battled, took shit. Guys jumped on me. “
“From that, they got the retaliation from one of their better players and it just kind of turned the tide for us and we just poured it on.”
The Blazers outshot the Royals 47-18 in the game and 20-2 in the third period.
Loewen said Victoria broke, the pivotal moment McDonald’s explosion, an outburst caused by four games’ worth of bruising physical play and one dose of pointed chirping.
Kamloops head coach Serge Lajoie echoed his sentiments.
“We were maybe able to get them to break,” Lajoie said. “We did that through sticking to the game plan.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reaction like that, from either my player or an opposing player. It was dangerous, the stick basically coming onto our bench. What’s going to happen [with filing of supplemental discipline] is way above my pay grade. We’ll wait and see.”
Note Lajoie’s phrasing and perhaps file it under gamesmanship.
KTW asked Price if his club would be filing for discipline after Kamloops forward Brodi Stuart levelled Victoria defenceman Matthew Smith in Game 3 at Sandman Centre on Tuesday.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Price said.
The Royals filed for discipline and Stuart was slapped with a one-game suspension, served on Wednesday. Smith was injured by the hit and also missed Game 4.
Franklin’s first goal of the post-season arrived at 8:11 of the second period. He banged in a rebound that resulted from a Luke Zazula shot, which would not have materialized without 15-year-old Logan Stankoven barging up ice and maintaining possession in the offensive zone under harassment from Royals’ defenders.
Igor Martynov tied the game at 2-2 at 15:09, streaking down the left wing to put himself at what looked like an impossible shooting angle. He found the tiniest of holes above Ferguson’s shoulder with a sniper’s aim.
Ferguson stopped 15 saves in victory. Outhouse made 41 saves in a losing effort. Kamloops was 3-for-6 on the power play. Victoria was 1-for-6.
Game 5 — call it the aftershock — promises to feature a Royals’ team dead set on remaining poised and a Blazers’ squad itching to fissure their opponent’s resolve.
“If we let our opponent, Kamloops or whoever, get under our skin and try to distract us from playoff hockey, we’re at risk of things not going that well,” Price said. “I think we just ignore all that, ignore the gamesmanship on the ice and just try to play hockey, then, hopefully, we can have a good Game 5.”
Zary, the 17-year-old forward from Saskatoon, has nine goals in his last seven games and is making a habit out of showing up in the clutch, providing markers of magnitude.
“It’s honestly just one word — fun,” Zary said.
The series epicentre will shift back to Kamloops for Game 6 on Monday.
“It’s amazing coming to the rink every day,” Zary said. “You saw it out there, the atmosphere. We’re coming together and it’s so much fun.”
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