Thunderbirds, Blazers set for Western Conference Championship rematch – Kamloops Blazers

Thunderbirds, Blazers set for Western Conference Championship rematch – Kamloops Blazers

April 20, 2023 at 10:40 pm  Kamloops Blazers, Sports

For the second consecutive spring, the WHL Western Conference Championship will feature the Seattle Thunderbirds and Kamloops Blazers.

The series was confirmed Thursday after the Blazers won their Second Round series versus the Portland Winterhawks. The Thunderbirds, who will hold home-ice advantage in the Western Conference Championship, are through to the third round after a four-game Second Round sweep of the Prince George Cougars.

A year ago, Kamloops and Seattle contested a seven-game thriller in the 2022 Western Conference Championship. Two games went to overtime, while each of the final four contests were decided by a single goal including the deciding Game 7. Thunderbirds netminder Thomas Milic turned aside 33 shots and Montreal Canadiens prospect Jared Davidson scored twice in a 3-2 Seattle win.

The two teams have found themselves on a collision course throughout the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien. The Thunderbirds and Blazers both won Division titles during the regular season, and suffered nary a defeat through the first two rounds of the post-season.

A total of 10 players from Canada’s gold medal-winning entry at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship will feature in the series including golden goal scorer Dylan Guenther, starting goaltender Milic and Blazers defenceman Olen Zellweger, who became the first WHL blueliner in six years to crack the 30-goal mark during the regular season.

The series will also feature no fewer than 19 NHL prospects, too, nine of whom were selected in the first two rounds of their respective NHL Drafts. A further eight players are listed on the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft, including both number-one netminders in Milic and Dylan Ernst.

The regular season series was equally tight; both sides won twice with two of the four games requiring extra time. A March regular season home-and-home set saw both Kamloops and Seattle defend their home playing surfaces, with the Blazers winning the most recent encounter between the Clubs by a 6-5 final score March 22 at the Sandman Centre.

The Thunderbirds were led in scoring during the season series by 2023 NHL Draft prospect Jeremy Hanzel. The veteran defenceman, who led the WHL with a +70 rating during the regular season, put up a goal and five assists against Kamloops in four appearances. Coyotes prospect Guenther led Seattle with three goals against the Blazers this season.

The Kamloops scoring lead was shared by Canadian World Junior teammates Caedan Bankier, Logan Stankoven and Olen Zellweger, each of whom collected six points versus the Thunderbirds during the regular season. Bankier and Stankoven earned identical stat lines, with two goals and four assists each, while Zellweger scored three times in three games as a Blazer against a Seattle team he knew well from his time with the Everett Silvertips.

Milic played three of the four games for the Thunderbirds, earning both wins against Kamloops while posting a .949 save percentage in the season series.

Fellow 2023 NHL Draft prospect Dylan Ernst recorded a 1-1-1-0 record for the Blazers in his three starts.

Game 1 of the 2023 Western Conference Championship between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Kamloops Blazers is scheduled for Saturday, April 29 at 6:05 p.m. PT in Kent, Wash. (accesso ShoWare Center). The series will shift to Kamloops for Game 3 on Tuesday, May 2 at 7:00 p.m. MT (Sandman Centre).

2023 WHL PLAYOFFS PRESENTED BY NUTRIEN – SERIES N SCHEDULE

Game Date Away Home Time
1 April 29, 2023 Kamloops Seattle 6:05 p.m. PT
2 April 30, 2023 Kamloops Seattle 5:05 p.m. PT
3 May 2, 2023 Seattle Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT
4 May 4, 2023 Seattle Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT
5 May 6, 2023 Kamloops Seattle 6:05 p.m. PT *
6 May 8, 2023 Seattle Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT *
7 May 9, 2023 Kamloops Seattle 7:05 p.m. PT *

* – if necessary

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