The Kamloops Blazers long history is rich with players who have accomplished big things while wearing the Blazers uniform, as well as after. The club’s current run of star goaltenders is of particular interest with Dylan Garand currently starring in the crease.
Garand signed his entry-level contract with the New York Rangers just before Christmas, while preparing to represent Canada at the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC). The Victoria, BC native was a 4th round pick of the Rangers in the 2020 NHL Draft, and is in his fifth Western Hockey League season in Kamloops.
By inking his deal with the Rangers, Garand became the third consecutive Blazers starting goaltender to sign an NHL contract, joining his former goalie partner Dylan Ferguson as well as Connor Ingram.
Garand has put up career numbers so far this season, harkening back to great goaltenders in Blazers history, like past standouts like Corey Hirsch (1988-92) or Devan Dubnyk (2001-06). The Blazers have been playing like a top tier contender near the top of the Western Conference, leaving fans hopeful for hockey deep into the spring and maybe even a shot at the franchise’s seventh Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL Champions.
In recognition of the Blazers hot streak between the pipes in recent seasons, let’s take a look back at the tenures of each of those goaltenders who have built a tradition of elite work in the crease at the Sandman Centre over the course of the past eight seasons,
The masked man who started the goaltending roll in Kamloops was Connor Ingram, who started 158 games (2014-17) for the Blazers. The native of Saskatoon, SK improved each year of his WHL career, and became a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016, following his second campaign in Kamloops.
Ingram followed up his draft selection by posting WHL career-best marks in SV% (.927) and GAA (2.44) in the ensuing 2016-17 campaign. He also represented Canada at the 2017 WJC, starting four games as Canada took home a silver medal in Montreal and Toronto. Over his three seasons with the Blazers, Ingram won 81 games with 12 shutouts, and guided the team to consecutive playoff appearances in his last two seasons.
That body of work was enough to earn Ingram his entry-level deal with the Lightning in 2017. The Nashville Predators traded for Ingram in 2019, and his NHL debut occurred earlier this season, as he appeared in a pair of games and recorded his first career win.
Ferguson played in 155 games in a Blazers’ uniform (2015-19), winning 61 of those, and posting three shutouts. He set career-best marks for save percentage (.922) and GAA (2.74) in 31 games as an 18-year old in 2016-17, which convinced the Dallas Stars to take him in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft. He was flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights shortly after along with a 2020 second round pick in exchange for defenseman Marc Methot. Ferguson later signed his entry-level deal with the Golden Knights.
He played in a career-high 59 games for Kamloops in 2017-18, and in November of that season, the injury bug bit the Golden Knights, which resulted in Ferguson being called up on an emergency basis. His NHL stint lasted 17 days and included his debut in relief against the Edmonton Oilers on November 14, 2017.
“I’m really at a loss of words right now,” Ferguson said after debuting for the Golden Knights in 2017. Ferguson turned professional in 2019-20, and played primarily in the ECHL during his first two campaigns. He has played for the Henderson Silver Knights in the American Hockey League this season and was recalled to the NHL for a short stint in January. Ferguson served as the Golden Knights’ backup for one game and spent a short time on the taxi squad before being returned to the AHL.
Garand is leaving his mark in Kamloops, and could log one of the all-time great careers from a goaltender wearing the Blazers’ blue and orange by the time he is finished.
Garand has arguably been the top goaltender in the WHL this season as a 19-year old, leading in wins (24) and goals against average (1.97) at the time of this story, while currently ranking second in save percentage (.926). To date in his fourth full WHL campaign, Garand carries a .930 save percentage with 17 wins, along with a 1.86 GAA. The 2020 fourth round pick of the Rangers follows Ingram and Ferguson in earning NHL deals while tending goal for the Blazers.
Garand saw action in one game during the 2021 WJC as Canada took home a silver medal, and started the opener of the 2022 tournament against Czechia, and was in competition with Brett Brochu of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights for the starter’s net moving forward before the remainder of the tournament was stopped due to COVID-19.
Garand’s first full season with the Blazers was 2018-19 as a 16-year old, when he backed up a then 20-year old Ferguson, who was playing his fourth and final season in Kamloops. Ferguson won 17 games in 49 appearances that season while Garand picked up 11 wins in 27 games helping the Blazers reach the playoffs.
Also that season, Garand played for Canada at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, posting a .930 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average in four games. Garand took over as the Blazers starter the following season with Ferguson aged out and turning pro, playing in a career-high 42 games with 28 wins and four shutouts. Garand also touted a 2.21 GAA and a .921 SV%. That performance helped prompt the Rangers to select him in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Rangers gave Garand a taste of action in the American Hockey League in 2020-21, as he played in a pair of games for the Hartford Wolf Pack while the WHL season was delayed due to COVID-19. Once the WHL’s hub season got underway, Garand continued his dominance, winning 15 of his 18 starts with three shutouts in the shortened campaign.
Garand is still eligible to return next season as a 20-year old, which could give him a chance to rewrite some of the franchise goaltending records. To date, he has amassed 79 wins in 120 games with 10 shutouts. If he returns to Kamloops in 2022-23, Garand could possibly take aim at Hirsch’s franchise record of 120 career wins as well as Dubnyk’s 15 career shutouts, if he doesn’t challenge that number this season.
Likely the only WHL team to rival the Blazers’ success in goal over the same time period has been their Western Conference rival Everett Silvertips.
Beginning in 2013-14, Carter Hart, Dustin Wolf, and Braden Holt have handled starting duties in Everett. The first two have both put together banner junior careers in the WHL before embarking on NHL careers, and the draft-eligible Holt is currently leading the west-leading Silvertips with a dominant first season as the starter.
Hart was a part of history with Everett, backstopping them to victory in the longest game in Canadian Hockey League history, a five-overtime battle of wills against the Victoria Royals and goaltender Griffen Outhouse in the decisive sixth game of the first round of the 2017 WHL playoffs. Hart recorded 64 saves while Outhouse made 72 stops.
The native of Sherwood Park, AB was a combined 8-2 in his two WJC appearances (2017-18) with Canada, bringing home a gold and a silver medal. He was a 2nd round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2016, made his NHL debut in 2019, and has 42 career wins as he plays in his third season with the Flyers.
Wolf formed a tandem with Hart in Everett in 2017-18, and took over as the starter the following season. The Tustin, CA native won 106 games over four WHL seasons and represented the USA twice (2020-21) at the WJC. He was a seventh round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2019 and is currently putting up outstanding numbers in his first season in the AHL. He earned his first NHL call-up in late December, serving as the backup to Jakob Markstrom from one game in Seattle against the Kraken.
Holt became the starter in Everett this season, and has worked to a 2.45 GAA and a .915 SV%, while going 20-4-3 with three shutouts. The 18-year old was passed over in the 2021 NHL Draft, perhaps due to his stature. Holt stands 6’1’’, shorter than most scouts look for in a goalie, but as FC Hockey explains, he possesses excellent mobility in the crease.
COMMON THREAD: DAN De PALMA
A large common thread woven through the careers of each of the recent Blazers’ netminders is Dan De Palma, who has been the goaltending coach in Kamloops since 2008. He worked for three seasons in the same capacity with the Prince George Cougars prior to being hired by the Blazers.
In total, four Kamloops netminders have signed NHL contracts after honing their craft with De Palma. Cole Kehler played his first two WHL seasons with the Blazers in 2013-15 before playing a season in the BC Hockey League and two back in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. He has played four professional seasons and signed with the Winnipeg Jets in 2021.
“He’s been huge,” Garand said of De Palma in an interview with CFJC Today in Kamloops. “I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without (De Palma). He kind of goes under the radar a little bit and doesn’t get all the credit he deserves, but he’s been great for every goalie who’s been here. You can ask anyone — he’s the best. We’re super lucky to have him.”
In the same CFJC Today story, Blazers’ assistant general manager Tim O’Donovan noted that De Palma is also active in scouting, including goaltender Jesse Sanche, whom the club has high hopes for after selecting him in the most recent WHL Draft.
SETTING THE STANDARD
The goaltending stable has clearly been stocked for the Blazers over the past several seasons.
Astute evaluations from the front office and scouting department, and an experienced and insightful goalie coach lay the groundwork and provide necessary support, but it all comes down to the masked men between the pipes stopping the puck.
Blazers fans have certainly been treated to outstanding goaltending performances for the past several seasons, and it has set the team up to be competitive year in and year out.