The Bellingham Blazers had been here before, facing the rival West Sound Warriors in an elimination game during the Cascade Cup Championship.
But this feeling was much, much different than the previous two seasons.
Bellingham each of the last two years went to Game 5 before eventually winning a league title over West Sound in two thrilling Northern Pacific Hockey League series.
This time the Blazers were no match for the overpowering Warriors, who struck early and often to hand Bellingham an 8-1 Game 3 loss to sweep the series and end the Blazers’ season Friday, March 13, at the Bellingham Sportsplex.
Bellingham lost Game 1 6-2 and Game 2 6-0, both on the road.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Blazers coach Mark Collins said. “We were pretty banged up after the Wenatchee series, not that was an excuse or anything, but we played tentative tonight. And all series we just didn’t have our A-game. For one reason or another, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
West Sound’s Luke VanSchaack and Jimmy Morgan each scored two goals early in the game, and Bellingham’s lone score came off the stick of Jack Speer after an assist from Kyler Moore.
Bellingham goalkeeper Cody Foster was under fire all throughout the first two periods. West Sound outshot Bellingham 51-17 during the first 40 minutes of play. Foster was injured midway through the second and was replaced by Broderick Parker, who did a fine job in relief.
Lack of scoring and early deficits plagued Bellingham in its first two losses to West Sound, and it was more of the same Friday night.
Less than 13 minutes into the game, the Warriors had already built a 3-0 advantage. VanSchaack scored on a one-timer 5:37 into the first period, and Morgan followed with a nice one-on-one move to beat
Foster, giving West Sound a 2-0 lead with 9:45 left in the first.
The Warriors entered the second period leading 3-0 and took a 4-0 advantage on VanSchaack’s second goal of the game just 2:46 into the second period.
Finally Bellingham broke through at the 13:51 mark when Moore swung around behind the net and found Speer in front of the net. Moore’s pass popped up in the air, and Speer batted the puck in past Warriors’ keeper Joe Morgan, trimming West Sound’s lead to 4-1.
But Bellingham couldn’t find any more answers on offense, as West Sound reeled off four more goals, including an exclamation-mark goal on its Cascade Cup Championship with a score with nine seconds to play.
“Last year this was us, and the year before this was us,” said Collins of West Sound’s championship celebration. “It can go either way quickly. I’m still proud of my boys. They fought until the very end and played their hearts out.”
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.