The Seattle Thunderbirds’ best performance at the Memorial Cup pleased head coach Matt O’Dette, although it didn’t show in his stoic look.
Kyle Crnkovic and Jared Davidson each had a goal and two assists for the Thunderbirds in Wednesday’s 6-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers to reach the tournament semifinal.
Seattle will next play Friday against the winner between Kamloops and the Ontario Hockey League champion Peterborough Petes in Thursday’s tiebreaker.
“It’s up there,” O’Dette said when asked where the complete performance ranks in recent memory. “That’s more to the identity and the team that we can be.
“That’s clearly our best game of the tournament, so we’re happy with that. Moving forward, we need to duplicate that type of effort.”
Lucas Ciona, Jordan Gustafson, Luke Prokop and Colton Dach also scored for the Western Hockey League champion T-Birds. Seattle starter Thomas Milic made 30 saves for the win.
“They’re a great team . . . I think we played our style of game and it’s very hard for teams to compete with us when we do that,” Prokop said. “We played a very well-rounded game. It’s just difficult for teams to keep up with that.”
The preparation for Friday’s semifinal has already begun, according to O’Dette. He wasn’t concerned about his team getting overconfident.
“It’s a matter of staying even-keeled,” he said. “We’ve been that team over the course of the playoffs. When we got a big win we’ve put it aside and got ready for the next game.
“We have a veteran team, been in some pretty big situations, so we’ve got the experience not to get too high. In this tournament all the teams are excellent and the next challenge is coming our way on Friday.”
Ryan Hofer scored the lone goal for the host Blazers with Dylan Ernst stopping 36 shots.
“It wasn’t our best game. I thought that we looked nervous, struggled completing passes,” said Kamloops head coach Shaun Clouston. “Hof scored a big goal so we’re 1-1, which is a real positive.
“A couple breakdowns, just the turnover in the back of our end, some real glaring ones. I think, again, some guys gotta find a little more confidence against that team.”
Peterborough — after opening the tournament with two straight losses — staved off elimination with Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Quebec Remparts.
The Remparts (2-1) have a bye to Sunday’s final after beating both Seattle and Kamloops.
Ciona opened the scoring for the Thunderbirds 4:02 into the first period.
The captain sent a lead pass to a streaking Davidson, who fired a backhand shot that was stopped, but not controlled, by Ernst. After a scramble in front, Ciona sniped the puck home for his second of the tournament.
A costly Seattle mistake led to Kamloops drawing even at 10:50.
Kevin Korchinski turned the puck over to Daylan Kuefler as he looked to leave his own zone. Kuefler quickly dished it to Hofer, who wired the puck past Milic from the right faceoff circle.
But Davidson put the Thunderbirds ahead with a power-play marker at 6:39 of the second period.
The Blazers defence had a lapse when Dylan Guenther found Davidson open with an up-ice stretch pass. Davidson drove in and fired the puck past Ernst from the left faceoff circle.
Just eight seconds later, the Thunderbirds capitalized on another Blazers’ gaffe.
Kamloops defenceman Aapo Sarell turned the puck over behind the net to Crnkovic, who fed Gustafson in front of the net to beat Ernst for a 3-1 lead.
Seattle outshot the Blazers 29-19 through two heated periods with numerous skirmishes between the WHL foes.
Crnkovic padded the Thunderbirds’ lead at 5:33 of the third period. He scored his team-leading fourth goal of the tournament with a point shot that beat Ernst glove side.
Prokop made it 5-1 just over a minute later. He scored from the slot on a pass Brad Lambert intended for Guenther.
Dach scored with 5:32 remaining in the game when he took a pass from Reid Schaefer from the right faceoff circle, brought the puck around Ernst and tucked it in.
HAVE WE MET?
The Thunderbirds and Blazers split their four-game regular-season series and finished first and second in the Western Conference standings. The two met in the Western Conference championship series, with Seattle prevailing 4-2 in the best-of-seven matchup.
The Thunderbirds also ousted Kamloops in the 2022 conference final in seven games.
“It’s been a great little rivalry developed over the last couple of years,” O’Dette said after practice Wednesday. “They’re a great team, you know, I think they don’t get enough respect.”