BELLINGHAM - The Bellingham Blazers and West Sound Warriors have both sent clear messages in the first two games of the Northern Pacific Hockey League Cascade Cup Championship: nothing is going to come easy.
The Warriors dealt the first blow on Tuesday, March 4, with a 4-2 win. But the Blazers struck back with a 6-2 win Wednesday, March 5, to even up the series at 1-1.
Wednesday night's game was penalty-ridden from the start and featured 28 penalties in the game. Many times the officials called offsetting penalties with jeers from the fans to "Let them play."
The Blazers controlled the early proceedings and West Sound eventually took the inevitable penalty with 11:50 left in the first. West Sound is the most penalized team in the league and took two more penalties - one an offsetting minor with a Blazers penalty - before the period ended, and a total of 14 in the game.
The Blazers couldn't connect on either of the two powerplays they had in the first.
"You just got to keep your head up," Bellingham defenseman and NPHL defensive MVP Scott Hansen said of the struggles on the powerplay.
Bellingham's Cody Rich took a minor for head contact with 1:14 left in the period, and the Warriors had no problem with the powerplay
With 0.6 seconds left, a scramble in front of the net sent several Blazers to the ice, and the puck found its way past Blazers goaltender Robert MacDonald. Brantt Heble was credited with the goal for the Warriors and the scoreboard read 1-0 while the Zamboni took its first trip around the ice.
The Blazers corrected their man-advantage woes and responded in the second with a dominating powerplay, which scored two goals in the period.
"I think the deception me and Kacey (Walker) had at the blue line helped a lot," Hansen said.
Hansen connected first on the powerplay. Less than five minutes into the period a slapshot from Hansen hit a stick and popped past Warriors goalie Forrest Savel to even the score.
West Sound answered three minutes later when Peter Mingus scored his fifth goal of the postseason to make it 2-1.
The lead lasted only 13 seconds, because Blazers captain Mason Wade took control of the game by scoring the next three goals.
After a huge hit along the boards by the Warriors' Jimmy Morgan - which resulted in a five-minute boarding penalty, a game misconduct and an ejection - Wade took the puck, skated in and took a shot that hit the side of the net. He then grabbed the rebound and scored on the wraparound to even the score.
On the extended powerplay because of the major penalty on the Warriors, Wade connected again. With 10:19 left he took a pass from Rich and skated down the red line until he punched it in past Savel.
Wade wasn't done yet, though. He scored his hat-trick goal four minutes into the third off a pass from Rich to extend Bellingham's lead to two.
Despite three consecutive powerplays for the Warriors midway through the third, they couldn't find a way past MacDonald.
Bellingham didn't mind, as it killed off the penalties and waited for its turn on the powerplay. They eventually got it and Walker made it 5-2 with 2:34 left in the period, securing the victory.
Hansen's goal with 14 seconds left was just icing on the cake.
"It's pretty big for our confidence," Hansen said. "We know we can do it, it's just a matter of showing up and that's what we did."
With the series even, the teams play games three and four on Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8, in Bremerton. The series returns to Bellingham on Sunday, March 9, if neither team is able to capture both games in Bremerton.