BELLINGHAM - The Bellingham Blazers have come a long way in their inaugural season.
Just a few months ago, coach Mark Collins and the Blazers' front office were trying to piece together a winning roster with little time to recruit. Now Bellingham's junior league hockey team is one series away from claiming a Cascade Cup championship.
It was standing room only Friday night, March 8, at the Bellingham Sportsplex as Blazers fans wearing red and black packed the stands and lined the entire hockey rink to watch Bellingham's first playoff game.
Mason Wade scored two goals - the first coming 33 seconds into the first period - and Dawson Quint and Cody Rich added a score to lead the Blazers to a 4-1 win and a 3-0 series sweep of the Eugene Generals during the semifinals of the NORPAC's Cascade Cup hockey playoffs.
Bellingham took the first two games of the series in Eugene, winning 4-3 and 3-0.
"It was a fun series to be in, and it's a lot more fun when you're winning," Collins said with a grin. "We actually didn't play real well. I think the boys get nervous here at home. We just tried to get better every period. It was a struggle getting through tonight, but it was fine."
Cody Foster starred in goal for the second game in a row. The Blazers goal tender allowed just one goal, following a shutout during Bellingham's Game 2 win against Eugene.
"I'm happy to see our goal tending come around at the right time," Collins said. "All season we've kind of been rotating goalies, and now we are starting to take control of games with our goal tending. I'm happy we're peaking at the right time."
Bellingham didn't take long to give the fans something to cheer about. Wade was the beneficiary of an assist from Adam Papayoanou 33 seconds into the first period. Wade's goal marked the lone score in the first 20 minutes, as Bellingham outshot Eugene 17-9.
Minutes into the second period, Eugene's Matt Walton found the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1 before Bellingham scored arguably its best goal of the game.
Scott Hansen launched a hopeful shot from roughly 35 feet out toward goal, and Quint deflected the whizzing shot past Eugene goalie Chris Boyd to put Bellingham in front 2-1 with 10:14 left in the second.
Wade sealed the game eight minutes into the third period with a goal from short distance off an assist from Rich and Derek Davis, and Rich iced the victory with an unassisted score three minutes later.
"They are a good team," Collins said of Eugene. "I knew we would be evenly matched going into the series, so I'm real happy with the outcome. ... To see how many fans we had here tonight was phenomenal. It was great to see and real cool to watch."
The Blazers now turn their attention to either West Sound or Glacier. Bellingham will meet one of the teams next in the Cascade Cup NORPAC League Championship. Dates and times are not yet available.
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