For all the Kamloops Jardine's Blazers did well at the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament this week, scoring more than two goals in a game against the Okanagan Hockey Academy proved the toughest.
The Blazers lost 4-2 to Penticton's OHA in the 46th KIBIHT final at McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre. It is OHA's second straight title, and denied the hometown team a chance to win KIBIHT for only the third time.
The Penticton boys won the tournament late in Sunday's final, when Brandon Armstrong's blast from the left point got past a screened Jakob Walter, who was outstanding in the Kamloops goal. The goal, with 1:23 remaining, broke a 2-2 tie.
Kamloops had done well to get two goals on OHA; getting three was simply out of the question. OHA was a defensive power, allowing only three goals in five tournament games leading to the final.
"We take pride in our own end," said OHA head coach Mike Needham. "That's how you win games at the end of the day, you defend hard and block shots, like Kamloops did throughout this game."
OHA played a fine defensive game, to be sure, with its forwards never quitting while backchecking. But the real stars on the team were the five defencemen it dressed Sunday, all of them big and able to move their bodies and move the puck.
The Blazers really didn't get much in the way of offence for the first half of the game, and capitalized on its two best chances in the latter half.
OHA got the game's first two goals, with Jordan Schulting deflecting in a Tyler Popowich shot late in the first period and Hayden Dick going upstairs for a 2-0 lead six minutes into the second.
Facing a team that had outscored its opposition 20-3 in its first five games, the Blazers knew they had a long road ahead.
"There's 20 minutes, 40 minutes left at that point, and that's all you've got to play for," said Blazers head coach Kyle Allan. "You keep going, you keep sticking with the plan and our guys did a good job, they battled hard the whole game and we're really proud of the guys."
Kamloops turned things around not long after the Dick goal, getting some momentum on a power play and then putting together three or four good shifts.
It finally beat OHA goaltender Shane Farkas with 2:43 left in the second, Brendan Semchuk taking a pass from Ty Kolle and scoring from a sharp angle.
Kolle tied the game eight minutes into the third period, firing a laser into a top corner behind Farkas. The goal brought the water bottle off the top of the net and many of the 550 or so fans in attendance to their feet.
"It was a good game, it was a hard-fought game," Needham said. "I give Kamloops a lot of credit, getting down 2-0, they came back and really pushed us in the second and third. It was a good effort from them."
OHA pushed right back, and Kamloops was left to do all it could to hang on. The pressure continued into the latter stages, when OHA got its only power play of the game, and culminated with Armstrong's goal.
Akash Bains iced the victory into an empty net.
The Blazers were pleased with the effort - by the end of the game, some of their players were skating as though their legs weighed 250 pounds each.
"They're pretty tired. I'm pretty tired," Allan said, with a chuckle. "It's a grind to go through something like this - it's a lot of hockey in a few days. You get that adrenaline rushing and when it's done, you're done."
On Saturday, Semchuk scored in overtime as the Blazers defeated Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence 3-2 in a semifinal.
"It was great," Semchuk said. "I just shot it on net and I was so proud in front of the hometown."
Tyler Ward and Nikolas Sourtzis had the other Kamloops goals on Saturday, and Hayden Ostire and Nick Doyle scored for POE.
The Penticton Vees beat the Vernon Vipers 3-2 in Sunday's Tier 2 final.
The Kamloops Player's Bench Raiders lost 7-6 to Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence in a consolation game Saturday. Rylan Van Unen had two goals and two assists in the loss, with Brett Olstad, Garrett Kellington, Conan Poss and Parker Matheson also scoring in support of goaltender Reid Gladman.