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SERIES PREVIEW: (7) Vancouver Giants vs. (2) Kamloops Blazers

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The curtain rises on the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien Friday, March 31, and WHL.ca is previewing each of the eight First Round matchups. We continue by examining the series between the Kamloops Blazers and Vancouver Giants.


The Kamloops Blazers and Vancouver Giants will meet in the WHL Playoffs for the second consecutive spring when the two sides open the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien this weekend.

The best-of-seven First Round series begins Friday, March 31 in Kamloops (7:00 p.m. PT, Sandman Centre).

Kamloops begins its journey toward hosting the 2023 Memorial Cup presented by Kia against a familiar foe in the Vancouver Giants. The Blazers, who captured their fourth consecutive B.C. Division title heading into the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien, were six-game winners over the Giants in a Second Round series last spring but have their sights set on entering the Memorial Cup as WHL Champions rather than hosts.

Vancouver finished 39 points behind Kamloops in the regular season standings but have playoff resiliency to lean upon. The Giants staged one of the biggest post-season upsets in League history last spring, knocking off the top-seeded Everett Silvertips in the First Round of the 2022 WHL Playoffs; the belief in the Lower Mainland could well be that history can repeat itself.

The Dallas Stars will have a keen eye on this series, having signed two of the Blazers’ three leading point-getters including reigning WHL and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year Logan Stankoven, who led Kamloops with 97 points (34G-63A). Matthew Seminoff, who signed his entry-level contract with Dallas Wednesday, enjoyed a career year with 82 points (31G-51A) while Minnesota Wild prospect Caedan Bankier chipped in with 85 points on the strength of a 37-goal campaign.

Ty Thorpe led Vancouver in scoring during the regular season with 37 goals and 71 points, assuming the Club’s captaincy after Ottawa Senators prospect Zack Ostapchuk was dealt to the Winnipeg ICE in January. Thorpe is accompanied up front by the ninth-ranked North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting in Slovak import Samuel Honzek, who put up 56 points in his first season in North America despite being limited to just 43 games.

Kamloops has a deep NHL prospect pool within their lineup, including the reigning Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy winner Olen Zellweger, who came over from the Everett Silvertips along with Washington Capitals prospect Ryan Hofer. Zellweger, a draftee of the Anaheim Ducks, scored 22 times in 32 regular season contests for the Blazers while becoming the first WHL defenceman in six years to reach the 30-goal mark. Hofer, meanwhile, registered a 40-goal campaign to lead Kamloops skaters in goals.

Vancouver’s lone NHL prospect will play a big role in the series. Goaltender Jesper Vikman was brilliant during the 2022 WHL Playoffs for the Giants, and the Vegas Golden Knights prospect enters the post-season having been named to the B.C. Division First All-Star Team earlier this week.

These two sides met eight times during the regular season, with Kamloops securing points in each of the seven most recent encounters. Both Dylan Ernst and Matthew Kieper recorded shutouts for Kamloops in the season series. Both Giants victories came prior to the holiday break, and both wins occurred at the Langley Events Centre.

Stankoven led the Blazers with 17 points (4G-13A) from his six appearances, while Bankier chipped in with 14 points (4G-10A). With six tallies, Seminoff served as the leading goal-getter between the two sides, while Honzek’s seven points paced Vancouver versus Kamloops this season.

The two Clubs have faced each other three times in the WHL Playoffs, with Kamloops’ second-round victory serving as the most recent encounter. Overall, the Giants have won two of the three series dating back to the first post-season meeting between the Clubs in 2004.

STAT PACK

Kamloops Blazers Vancouver Giants
Record 48-13-4-3 (1st, B.C.) 28-32-5-3 (3rd, B.C.)
Leading Scorers Logan Stankoven (34-63-97)
Caedan Bankier (37-48-85)
Matthew Seminoff (31-51-82)
Ty Thorpe (37-34-71)
Samuel Honzek (23-33-56)
Jaden Lipinski (19-32-51)
Leading Goaltender Dylan Ernst (38-10-2-1, 2.69, .906) Jesper Vikman (19-21-1-2, 3.29, .903)
Power Play 30.1% (1st) 16.7% (21st)
Penalty Kill 77.2% (14th) 79.3% (9th)
2022 WHL Playoffs Lost Conference Championship(Seattle) Lost Second Round (Kamloops)
Last WHL Championship 1995 2006

2022-23 REGULAR SEASON SERIES
Vancouver (0) at Kamloops (6) – March 11, 2023
Kamloops (4) at Vancouver (2) – February 4, 2023
Vancouver (3) at Kamloops (6) – January 11, 2023
Vancouver (1) at Kamloops (2) – December 9, 2022
Kamloops (5) at Vancouver (6) SO – December 3, 2022
Vancouver (0) at Kamloops (3) – December 2, 2022
Kamloops (4) at Vancouver (1) – November 18, 2022
Kamloops (3) at Vancouver (6) – October 23, 2022

GAME BREAKERS

Kamloops Blazers: Logan Stankoven might well be the most tenacious player in the WHL, and the Blazers captain is the heartbeat of his team. Stankoven has proven time and time again that he can take games over, and judging by his 45 total points against the Giants since the start of the 2021-22 regular season, he’s ready to do so again beginning Friday.

Vancouver Giants: Ty Thorpe leads his team by example and has proven to be the scorer of clutch goals for the Giants down the stretch. The Brandonite finished the regular season with three game-winning goals; he enters the WHL Playoffs having found the back of the net in 12 of his last 16 games. He also finished the regular season with a 58.8% face-off percentage, third-best in the WHL among centremen with 650 or more face-off attempts.

GOALTENDING

Kamloops Blazers: Dylan Ernst led the WHL with 38 wins and has earned the confidence of head coach Shaun Clouston in his first season as a starting netminder. The Weyburn, Sask. product finished with a 4-1-0-0 record against Vancouver during the regular season, posting a .923 save percentage in his five outings against the Giants. Ernst, who is ranked by NHL Central Scouting ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft, was one of only three WHL goaltenders to play more than 3,000 minutes during the regular season.

Vancouver Giants: Jesper Vikman is the go-to-guy in Vancouver’s crease, and enters the post-season having helped author both Giants wins versus the Blazers in the regular season series. The Swedish netminder’s playoff performance speaks for himself; he was spectacular in Vancouver’s first-round series win versus Everett last spring, posting a 50-save shutout in a pivotal Game 5 away from home.

X-FACTORS

Kamloops Blazers: With Stankoven, Bankier, Zellweger and company earning top billing among Kamloops’ NHL prospects, it’s easy to look over the contributions made by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fraser Minten. The Vancouverite scored 31 times and led the Blazers with 17 power-play goals. Minten is a skilled forward who can be leaned upon in any situation; he recorded 16 points during Kamloops’ run to the Western Conference Championship series last spring.

Vancouver Giants: 2023 NHL Draft prospect Jaden Lipinski offers size and skill to Vancouver’s forward corps. The product of Scottsdale, Ariz. finished the regular season with 19 goals and 51 points and led the Giants with five game-winning goals. Lipinski, who competed at the 2023 Kubota CHL / NHL Top Prospects Game at the Langley Events Centre, also scored four times against Kamloops in the regular season series.

SERIES SCHEDULE

Game Date Away Home Time
1 March 31, 2023 Vancouver Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT
2 April 1, 2023 Vancouver Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT
3 April 4, 2023 Kamloops Vancouver 7:00 p.m. PT
4 April 6, 2023 Kamloops Vancouver 7:30 p.m. PT
5 April 8, 2023 Vancouver Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT *
6 April 10, 2023 Kamloops Vancouver 7:00 p.m. PT *
7 April 12, 2023 Vancouver Kamloops 7:00 p.m. PT *

* – if necessary


Through WHL Live on CHL TV, fans can enjoy every single scheduled game throughout the 2023 WHL Playoffs presented by Nutrien with the purchase of a WHL All-Access Pass at the low price of $59.99 plus applicable taxes and fees.

WHL Live – 2023 WHL Playoffs Packages
All-Access: $59.99
Round-by-Round: $19.99 per round
24-Hour Access: $9.99

* all prices in Canadian dollars
+ does not include applicable taxes and fees

WHL Live on CHL TV is available to fans anywhere in the world, providing high-quality streaming of WHL games on Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV platforms, via mobile with iOS and Android, and on web using Safari or Google Chrome web browsers. Visit WHLLive.com for complete details.

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