KAMLOOPS, B.C. –Thomas Milic came up with 40 saves and the Seattle Thunderbirds scored the game’s final four goals to defeat the Kamloops Blazers, 4-1, in Game Two of the WHL Western Conference Championship Series at the Sandman Centre Saturday. The win evens up the best-of-seven series at a game apiece. The series will now shift to the accesso ShoWare Center for the next two games, Tuesday and Wednesday. Game time both nights is 7:05 p.m.
Milic was at his best in the second period when he stopped a Logan Stankoven breakaway chance with Seattle holding a 2-1 lead. It was the second time in the series he stopped the Blazers leading scoring on a breakaway. “I’ve played against Stankoven since I was eight, nine years old. He’s had countless breakaways on me over the years. I just relied on my instincts and played it like any other one.”
Seattle General Manager Bil LaForge says his goalie relishes the chance to improve his chances of being drafted. “Every time he puts another feather in his cap he’s getting closer to the goal. We have a main goal as a team, but part of this development league is to get the guys to achieve their individual goals.”
For the second straight game Kamloops opened the scoring with a first period power play goal. The goal, from Stankoven came just 1:39 into the game.
Seattle got the equalizer five minutes later when Lucas Ciona scored by slipping home a rebound of a Jordan Gustafson shot. Conner Roulette earned the second assist. Ciona said one thing they wanted to do better in Game Two was get to the front of the net. “Last night was a little frustrating. We couldn’t get too much offense going. Tonight, we went to the net, went to the hard places. I crashed and banged, and I scored.”
The T-Birds took their first lead of the series at 5:32 of the second period. The goal came on a 2-on-1 rush between Ciona and Roulette with Roulette snapping home his second of the playoffs. The goal stood up as the game winner and was Roulette’s second of the playoffs.
He said he had a chance earlier against Kamloops goalie Dylan Garand that went wide, so he was ready for a second chance. “Early in the game I had a shift where I got the puck on the inside and Garand was aggressive on it. I missed the net, but I knew if I got the chance again, I was going to try the same thing.” He said the key was the pass from Ciona. “He made a good pass through the triangle there and I was able to put it far side.”
LaForge said the playoffs are giving Roulette, a Dallas Stars draft pick, the chance to improve his all-around game. “I think in the playoffs you’re seeing him turn his game into a complete, well-rounded game. He’s high guy in the defensive zone a lot of times and making sure he’s making smart plays.”
Seattle made it a two-goal lead at 5:25 of the third period. Matt Rempe won an offensive zone face off to the right of the Blazer goal and fed Sam Oremba in the slot. Oremba fired a low shot on goal that snuck inside the left post.
With just under three minutes left Kamloops pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. On their third attempt, the T-birds put the puck into the empty net, off the stick of Reid Schaefer.
The win was Seattle’s fifth on the road in their 2022 playoff run. They are now 5-3 away from home in the postseason.
Seattle played without Henrik Rybinski (undisclosed) and Head Coach Matt O’Dette (illness).
With his empty net goal, Schaefer extended his playoff point streak to six games (4g, 6a).
Ciona is now tied for the team’s playoff goal scoring lead with Jared Davidson and Lukas Svejkovsky. All three have scored seven times.
Full boxscore: WHL Network