BELLINGHAM -- Based on the enthusiasm the new Bellingham Blazers junior hockey team created, the feisty squad wont soon be forgotten.
The Blazers saved their season by taking the regular-season champion West Sound Warriors of Bremerton to two sudden-death overtimes until Bellingham prevailed 5-4 in a memorable fourth game of the Cascade Cup finals on Saturday, March 16, at the Sportsplex.
Bellingham came in trailing the best-of-five series 2-1 but survived with a remarkable display of 37 minutes and 30 seconds of scoreless overtime goalkeeping by Cody Foster. That sends the Blazers to a title-deciding game on Sunday night, March 17, in Bremerton.
With 2:30 left in the second overtime, Bryce Kenning scored his first goal of the playoffs off an assist by Kristjan Toivola, ending the game at about 11:15.
In the first two periods, the Blazers played with a ferocity that had a packed house of well over 600 fans roaring constantly.
They took a 3-1 lead on goals by Micky Turner (his first of the playoffs) in the first period and by Toivola (his second of the playoffs) and Cody Rich (his fifth) in the second period. The assists came from Scott Hansen on the first goal and Dawson Quint and Gerin Hohl on the second.
West Sound outscored the Blazers 3-1 in the third period for a 4-4 tie in regulation, including the game-tying goal by Josh Twietmeyer with 4:17 remaining. Mason Wades goal with 7:25 left, off assists from Rich and Mark MacDonald, had put the Blazers up 4-2.
I you asked anyone who saw our 1-8-1 start, I dont think we would have been picked to make the league finals, said Bellingham coach Mark Collins before the game. His first-year Tier III club enjoyed what he called an eventful season in the six-team Northern Pacific Hockey League.
It was also a winning year -- 22-17-1 for third place in the regular season plus a strong postseason showing, including a 3-0 sweep of second-place Eugene in the Cascade Cup semifinals.
Perhaps most gratifying of all, the Blazers grew popular enough to attract capacity crowds of well over 600 fans to the tight confines of the Sportsplex.
We had 400 fans for our home opener and we had 650 on Friday (in the Blazers first home playoff game in the finals, a 6-4 loss to West Sound). Its especially great to see so many kids who play hockey get a chance to see us, and to see all this future support, said Collins, who is also hockey director of the Sportsplex.
Collins said Fridays frustration typified the Blazers can-do attitude.
We dont quit ever, said Collins, whose club fell behind 4-1 in the first period but outplayed West Sound in the second and third periods. That helped set the emotional stage for their strong start Saturday.
Kyler Moore scored two goals and Rich and Hansen had one each, including Hansen first post-season goal. Wade had three assists and Moore and Rich contributed two apiece.
The Blazers playoff statistics show how many performers Collins has helped develop.
Eight different players came into Saturdays contest with playoff goals and another five had at least one assist.
Rich and Wade led the point parade with four goals and five assists apiece in their first six postseason games. Derek Davis had four goals and two assists and Moore had three goals and three assists.
Ironman goalkeeper Cody Foster logged 183 saves, two shutouts and 12 goals against over 372 minutes in his first six postseason starts over an 11-day span.
Weve been pretty well-rounded, said Collins. I think our players really grew together a lot. We had our ups and downs, but it was an eventful season.